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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Everything's all right, go back to sleep

Commissioner Randy Leonard's idea of disbanding the Portland Development Commission in favor of a more accountable urban renewal agency crashed last night, as the rest of the City Council showed no interest in it. The PDC, it seems, must be "independent" to do its job. I still haven't heard why. The original idea of the separate agency was to keep the elected officials from taking graft. Nowadays it seems that there might be less corruption if the urban renewal doings all went through City Hall.

But it ain't going to happen. Tweedle Sten and Tweedle Adams apparently thought back nostalgically on all the fun they've had building luxury suites for minor league baseball and doubling the size of the empty convention center and said, "Man, we can't let this good thing come to an end. Let's keep the curtain." The top secret negotiations where the Goldman Sachs guys show you their platinum money clips are especially sexy.

In a few weeks we'll have David Knowles running the PDC, and the beat goes on, I guess.

Maybe not just yet. The City Council heard from Portland's version of the Donald yesterday -- PDC CEO Mazziotti -- and he actually apologized for some of the contracting shenanigans that have demoralized PDC staffers and Portland taxpayers alike. No apologies for having the public relations savvy of an ant, however. And as b!X will point out in an upcoming post (of which I've had a sneak preview), more contracting scams may be waiting to come to light. From the b!X piece:

But before we get into the more or less chronological rundown, we feel we should point out something said by current PDC executive director Don Mazziotti, but left out of today's Oregonian story.

While that article reports that Mazziotti did admit that mistakes were made, and offered his apologies, the longer form of one of his statements is this: "We've made mistakes [and] I'm sure there will be more that will be reported."

Make of that what you will. Now on to the rest.

Too bad about the Leonard proposal. Like him, I'm not against urban renewal. I am against unelected political bosses taking taxpayers' money and lining their own pockets with little public notice or comment. Unfortunately, the current PDC setup allows, even encourages, the latter.

Comments (11)


Don't canonize Leonard just yet. He is still resistent to the much needed overhaul of the F&P disability and pension fund. Talk about public money, no oversight and potential for abuse (oh my!). Let's see how he deals with this one, accountability and transparency, tax dollars and all.

Any don't dismiss Adams and Sten for not jumping on board with Leonard's 'baby with the bath water' proposal. It doesn't mean they are pro-corruption. It might mean that they realize the benefits of the PDC and don't want to make the agency suffer for the indiscretions of the employees.

Couldn't this be considered a reactionary move akin to Saltzman and the reservoir covers? And he'll never separate himself from that one in spite of all the good he's done.

"It might mean that they realize the benefits of the PDC...

And what, exactly, are those benefits?

See, that's just it, Doug -- it's not baby and bathwater. Challenging the dangerous and outmoded structure of the PDC is not at all the same thing as challenging its mission. Alas, when things are as screwed up as they are at the PDC, with both structure and current mission being highly objectionable, it's easy to blur the two. But the outcome here appears to be that we'll change neither. Bad outcome.

As for the fire and police pensions, what a time to try to make changes on that boondoggle. The mayor and a city commissioner are both current beneficiaries of that system. It won't change for a long, long time. All Saltzman is going to get if he pushes the issue too hard is a new job.

I think part of the problem any would-be reformer faces is that the Good Old Boy system is the way Oregon has operated since territorial days. The Operative word is Good. The good guys (insiders)get and give favors. There is a lot of talk about the need for outsiders, but, imo, the system is nearly inpenetrable for genuine outsiders. For most people, by the time they get into a position where they can really do something, their hands are tied in some ways. Funny contracts, land scams, killing the messenger. All of this is deeply inbedded in Oregon history,and very much still happening today,beyond just one agency-or quasi agency- like the PDC. E. Kimbark McColl's writings on Portland's history are revealing and if you look at some of the local political races, you can see that respect for the law and integrity are not even considered favorable traits by many who confuse scmoozing and maneuvering with political sophistication. I recall Bill Atherton's first (successful) race for Metro Council in 1998-where his opponent attacked his position that existing environmental laws should be enforced-and got lots of agreement on that point. This is still the wild, wild West in many ways. I think we ought to stop pretending that the Rule of Law and basic reasonableness prevail here very often.

Couldn't this be considered a reactionary move akin to Saltzman and the reservoir covers? And he'll never separate himself from that one in spite of all the good he's done.

It's funny you menion this, because Saltzman himself said something last night that was a reference to that disaster, although I can't recall right now if he specifically used to word "reservoirs" at the time, and I'm still slogging through my rather copious notes of last night's meeting to get an item posted.

I'm interested in this... "I am against unelected political bosses"... Not too long ago, we were all against "corrupt politicians who care nothing but for their next election".

Other than a pox on all their houses, this raises an interesting question: What's better - decisions by professional but possibly unaccountable bureaucrats OR elected politicians who bend with the political winds?

"What's better - decisions by professional but possibly unaccountable bureaucrats OR elected politicians who bend with the political winds?"

Though the word has become prima facie a term of derision, the concept of bureaucrat was designed, was it not, to remove public administration from the patronage, payoffs and corruption of politics and politicians.

Er, Kari, you must start paying attention. The political boss of Oregon for the last 30 years has been a fellow by the name of Neil. And the PDC has been his money-grabbing arm for about a decade now. Hennessee, Wilson and Mazziotti were the lieutenants; Katz was used, over and over. Try to catch on.

"Try to catch on".

no kidding!

Anyone else get the feeling from Don's "I'm sure there will be more than will be reported" comment that perhaps the WORST is yet to come? I rarely hear politicians trying to get out in front of a p.r. disaster unless what is to come is worse than what has already come. Could be interesting times ahead...

The problem is much more fundamental than the existence of a good old boys' insiders club that runs things, or the PDC's structure being dangerous and outmoded, or even that PDC's mission is wrong. While all those things may be true, fixing them won't fix the basic underlying problem. In fact, if anything, those conditions exist because of the basic underlying problem.

It was Thomas Paine who said, "That government is best which governs least." Governments should stick to their knitting. When it comes to cities providing services, those services should be the bare bones basic essential services that wouldn't get provided unless it was city government doing the providing. Police, fire, a jail, maybe a couple of other ones, but not many. Some services must be provided by city workers (police, fire). Other essential city services can be contracted out (roads, sewers). Minimalism is the byword here. If the service can be provided by the private sector, then government should stay out of it as much as possible, if not altogether.

Admittedly, many people, probably a majority in Portland, don't subscribe to the above view. In fact, most Portlanders subscribe to a view that's antithetical to Paine's. They see government --all levels of government-- as big goody bags that exist to dole out the goodies to make people's lives better. Not only do the goodies get doled out to selected persons and selected entities, government then has to hire people --lots of people-- to be dolers, to support the dolers, and to administer over the dolers.

And, by the way, that's exactly why there is an ongoing and never-ending need for governements to always be grubbing for more tax dollars.

But, nevertheless, Paine had it right, and there are very good reasons behind the minimalist approach to governments. First, governmental bodies and the activities they do aren't controlled by the usual laws of economics, and, hence, they become top-heavy and grossly inefficient. Second, power, raw power, assumes an inordinate position of importance. The people in the power positions, the ones doing the doling of the goodies, and the ones in charge of those doing that doling, soon learn the magical power they wield, and it isn't long before that power is used in all manner of ways that were never foreseen or intended at the outset. And that lives right next door to incompetence and corruption. And that's how you get a PDC.

And it isn't just PDC. It's any governmental agency that's doing things beyond the bare minimal of essential services.

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