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Friday, August 12, 2011

A true bombshell

It's been a genuinely historic couple of days here in Portlandia -- potentially the biggest in our nine years plus of blogging. The FBI raid on the city's parking meter manager, Ellis McCoy, is stunning. There are so many angles just begging to be written about -- let's see if we can get a decent rundown posted before the weekend gets here and the sunshine distracts us:

Dwight Holton

The interim U.S. attorney is showing some serious brass ones here. We can't remember any of his predecessors over the last three decades being willing to swoop down on suspected municipal corruption. Certainly his three immediate predecessors weren't brave enough to try anything of the sort.

Holton is certainly not publicity-shy -- is he running for something? The permanent U.S. attorney's position, perhaps? His designated successor, who doesn't seem as qualified as he, is having trouble getting confirmed. But is making waves the way to win the heart of Gatsby Wyden, who calls the shot on that position?

Maybe Holton's angling to run for Multnomah County district attorney. In our book, he'd be a better choice than either of the two candidates announced so far.

One fascinating aspect of the McCoy probe is how much the mainstream media seems to know about it. They're reporting not only the target, but the specifics of what he's being targeted for. Given that Holton's office doesn't appear to have said boo publicly about the nature of the investigation, somebody over there may be talking off the record to the press and broadcast people. Otherwise, we suspect they'd be much more circumspect in their account of what's being investigated.

Sue Keil

The relationship of McCoy and his former boss, ex-transportation director Sue Keil, has taken some drastic swings over the past few years, and they don't add up. At one point, McCoy had threatened to sue the city, accusing Keil of racial prejudice, among other things. Keil, who's now interim head of the city parks bureau, reportedly told McCoy he had serious issues, including allegations of bribery, and it's pretty likely that she wound up seeking out a management coach to try to whip him into shape. McCoy, Keil, and Lavinia Gordon -- the manager who sat between the two on the flow chart -- even had a sit-down to discuss a "severance issue." It was stormy, to say the least.

Now, however, the relationship has turned around 180 degrees. Suddenly Keil says that all the parking meter contracts were shipshape, and McCoy is saying nice things to the press about her and his other superiors. When asked by a reporter yesterday why he didn't follow through with suing the city, he replied that he decided that it wouldn't be ethical to sue one's employer.

Give me a break. There is something extremely odd going on there.

The apologies

McCoy is all over the local TV apologizing for putting the city through this "experience." What exactly is he apologizing for? If he's innocent, he's the victim of a wrongful investigation. Why would he apologize for that? None of the three reporters he told how sorry he was, asked him what for.

Sam Adams

Perhaps the most stunning sight of all was the reaction of the city's hapless mayor. The guy looked scared witless, both when a reporter first accosted him in the hallway (see the start of this video, after the commercial) and again when he gave his canned statement. He had Sustainable Susan Anderson (governess of food scrap composting) next to him in the hallway scene, and she, too, looked like somebody had just been shot:

If McCoy really had been internally investigated and found clean, would that be the reaction? Indeed, even if Adams knows the guy's dirty, why the end-of-the-world look? It's just the parking meter guy.

There's got to be something bigger happening here. Maybe it's that an unwritten deal between City Hall and the feds has been broken. Maybe it's that other bribes and kickbacks are waiting to be found. But from the look on the mayor's face, it must be bad for him -- really bad. The big question that he and other truth-challenged city officials are doubtlessly asking themselves is where the cleanup is going to stop. And what does McCoy have to trade with Holton if a plea deal is on the table?

The embarrassment is actually double in the mayor's case. Not only does he run the transportation bureau, but he's also in charge of the finance bureau, which handles procurement. If there were bribes or kickbacks being taken for city contracts, shouldn't that office also be held responsible?

The O Channels Claude Rains

At least there was some comic relief. The O has published this howlingly funny editorial, in which its board exclaims that it is shocked -- shocked! -- that there could be dishonesty in local government. This in a town where the mayor leaves envelopes full of cash at the City Hall reception desk for the victim of his own alleged sexual abuse, while a criminal investigation of those allegations is in full swing. Where the transportation director takes a free (or should we say almost free, he couldn't remember if he paid anything) weekend at the beach house of a developer who regularly feasts at the public trough. A state where the treasury employees bill the public for reimbursement of travel expenses that were actually paid by somebody else -- the people with whom they do official state business. And the state treasurer has to be waterboarded before he finally gives in and outlaws such practices.

Four words, people: tip of the iceberg.

But hey, the O is shocked and outraged. "This isn't New Jersey," they sneer. No, and you aren't the Washington Post, either.

That other paper

Finally, where the heck is Willamette Week? Too busy turning in their gun, apparently.

Comments (38)

There is little risk in being very public about an investigation if the investigating agency is quite sure a successful prosecution will follow. You can bet the USDA had his ducks in a row before diving in.

If the Feds are going after the whole house of cards, I applaud them. However, I am from Missouri while this is playing out (Show Me).

Meanwhile, the Feds love to leak info to the press because it is nearly impossible to win an change of venue in federal court and trial by media helps their cause. Again, I am referring to my close knowledge of events in New York State. The leaks will stop after a defense lawyer gets a gag order and not until then.

The best thing to happen to this city would be an outdoor billboard or two, with a simple message.

Read bojack.org

WW has a small side line that says something to the effect that the corruption goes no further up...hummm? Really?
My guess is that the corruption goes way up the chain of command and that everyone is scared to death over at Kiddie Hall.
After all, Puddle town is not New Jersey, or other places, where the placement of parking meters is small time. This group of small time crooks, can't even do this without getting caught!

Great report, Jack. It would be nice to see somebody big go down in City Hall for all the abuse that appears to be going on.

I love how Mayor's office put out a 'one page, one sentence' statement saying that they were not going to make any comments. Would you do that if you hadn't spoken to your attorney and been advised to say nothing?

I mean, come on, no statement like "we're looking into this" or "deeply concerned" or "wanting to assure the public trust" or any of that?

I believe WW's Nigel Jaquiss always takes August off.

I asked it before and I'll ask it again:



Now, now, don't get excited. Can't you just appreciate the circuses:

"PORTLAND, Ore. – Mayor Sam Adams and Congressman Earl Blumenauer invite the Portland community to a celebration for 10 years of service for the Portland Streetcar on Friday, August 12, at 11 a.m. at Jamison Square in the Pearl District. The Portland Streetcar made its debut on July 20, 2001, making Portland the first city to build a modern streetcar system with modern vehicles in North America."

The party actually begins at 10; speeches at 11.

Re: "Certainly his three immediate predecessors weren't brave enough to try anything of the sort."

Lest you forget, one of those pusillanimous predecessors, deemed no threat by Rove and his boss during her tenure, is now a local sitting judge.

What are the odds we'll see what kind of kickback Homer, Gerding-Edlen et al had to pony up to be the only people who ever get redevelopment money at great terms?

Then we can look at water and the short list of consulting engineers that get all the jobs (David Evans and MWH)? Or just the whole army of consultants that make a living off doing PowerPoints on taxpayers dollars.

Finally, if this culminates in some action we can get rid of all those "no-bid" contracts Randy loves to those who kiss his, erm, ring.

Regarding the Portland Streetcar celebration, the statement identifies Blumenauer as the US Representative from the Fifth District, not the First!!

Make that the Third, sorry.

BTW - Watching this video, this guy is a CoP lifer and he lives in a Hillsboro rental apartment? Maybe he has some expensive habits.

Steve, I wondered about that as well...

My guess is that some or all of the city bureaucrats in this story have been paid by the city's HR Department to keep quiet. That is, they receive a lump sum of money if they sign a nondisclosure agreement that prevents them from saying anything negative about the city or any of its officials or employees.

If this is the case, would the FBI be able to override the terms of the nondisclosure agreements and compel the employees who signed them to talk?

I have always felt that our local governments shouldn't have the power to enter into NDAs, as they use taxpayer money to subvert transparency in government and, as may be case here, to cover up potentially criminal activity.

Seems likely the feds had most of the story from someone before going forward. Any financial evidence or paper trail uncovered will go to validate the information already provided by whoever. So, if there was some hanky panky going on, who was the first one to come forward and cut a deal?

Boxes and crates of documents at McCoy's home? How is that permissible?

I would really like to think that this was a well-orchestrated scam that runs all the way to the top and ends with the Mayor, but I honestly think that the CoP management are too dumb to pull off something so elaborate. They do such obviously inappropriate things and then stare blankly at the camera when they are called on it, like they had no idea it was wrong.

A) The Willamette Week was taken over by West Hills money a long time ago and will never report about corruption that runs uphill- book it.

B) There is a reason Sam and Randy are not running for reelection. They know they have made deals that are likely to be exposed and some of these could be quite shocking to our quiet little town.

C) Don't ever discount the chance that the Fed is being used by bigger fish to keep the city in check (like the big banks in their plan to bankrupt municipal government).

I'm willing to believe the alleged actual corruption, if proven true, starts and ends with McCoy. However, fairly or not, this does not reflect well on the managerial competence of Adams, Keil, and Miller. They were staring at a forest of red flags and did essentially nothing. I bet once McCoy played the race card, the kid gloves went on and the most strenuous discipline they could come up with was management coaching. Refuse to face a problem--particularly a racially tinged one--head on. Instead, hire a consultant at taxpayer expense. That's the Portland way!

The "smartmeters" are straight out of Portlandia: the old "insert/twist" meters were more reliable, cheaper to operate, and faster for the consumer to park.

The only benefits of Smartmeters is the addition of a debit/credit feature, and they provide mechanism to increase parking rates/hours at their whim (a benefit to Kiddie Hall, not consumers).

Formerly, you merely walked a few feet to feed coins into the meter: you could complete the transaction in 12 seconds. Now, you frequently need to walk half a block (or more, it the designated meter is broken), perhaps 20 seconds. Then you stand in the rain while the machine dials your bank to make sure you're good for the $2.40 (30 seconds). Add in another 10 seconds for printing. Then you have to walk back to your car and put the sticker inside the windshield (hoping it doesn't slide down into the window crevice).

Once again, a CoP "upgrade" screws the citizenry. All in the name of green progress.

Concerning Ickabod and others posting about PBOT Miller's restricting First Amendment rights, and Jack's earlier post "If the IRS calls, tell your boss".

Restricting Free Speech as Miller has done has been an operating procedure from our city government in other agencies too. For example the PDC a few years ago put out a missive titled "Procedural Ground Rules for Meetings" for an Urban Renewal Advisory Committee. The eleventh Rule was:

"Refer all media requests and contacts from civic organizations to PDC".

What right does PDC have in developing such a rule? I wonder if the ACLU or even the Feds will be interested in Miller's directive.

   [kuh-ruhp-shuhn] Show IPA
the act of corrupting or state of being corrupt.
moral perversion; depravity.
perversion of integrity.
corrupt or dishonest proceedings.

Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!four out of five

This city is very corrupt. It's amazing how almost no one gets that.

Look at Jack's later post about the builder of the Sustainability Center becoming a key tenant. We just can't do ANYTHING on the up-and-up around here. There are no arms-length transactions. It's all incestuous, all the time.

Mister Tee, et. al - the time frame for any fraud would have been 10 plus years ago, when the City first started looking at "Smart Meters." As I recall, the old coin meters were starting to break down, and replacement parts were hard to find. (I wonder if anyone looked for other manufacturers of old-style parking meters, or if the plan to expand geography, hours and rates was the scheme all along.) Once one brand of meter is installed, it probably becomes too expensive to replace thousands of meters with a different brand. The contract for the meters, including maintenance, does essentially become a "sole source" contract at that point. I think the "trial offer" at a discount is where I'd be looking for evidence.

Umpire, "Old coin meters were starting to break down"-how often have we heard the "breaking down" excuse. Like in computer programs. Several people in the know in PBOT have stated that continuing the operation of the coin meters was possible. Plus, I've been to many cities and towns where the coin meters are still operating. I guess they didn't get the "breaking down" reasoning yet, or they don't have the funds to bribe or get bribed. Or they haven't taken the new-is-always-better pill.

umpire:I think the "trial offer" at a discount is where I'd be looking for evidence.

If so, who would have been involved at that time?

I wondered why McCoy, who makes 127+ K per year, lived in an apartment in Hillsboro. I did some snooping and found out he got divorced in May, which probably explains his current domicile.

"This isn't New Jersey," they sneer. No, and you aren't the Washington Post, either.

I nominate Jack's snark for the Lloyd Bentsen Slapdown o' the Year award.

Ralph Woods...Do you know something, or are you just making it up for the sake of polemics?

But what about Sue Keil's 3000 sq ft house on a Willamette riverfront one acre lot, complete with swimming pool, that is assessed at over $800,000?

I never thought the road to wealth would be in a government job. Guess I was wrong.

john -

Obviously you don't know Sue and her husband. Hubby is a private business / industry / professions guy who has over the years made beaucoup bucks.


Forget about fraud. How about just REALLY BAD analysis and trial feedback from consumers prior to rollout?

The "smartmeters" suck in just about every way compared to the low tech parking meters they replaced.

1. They cost more to operate
2. They break more frequently
3. They require more time/distance for each consumer compared to dumb meters.
4. They create a new debris stream (including a new cost of repair to the consumer when they gum up your electric windows).
5. They can be reprogrammed with little public input to jack up parking rates/hours of operation.

After I used them a few times early on, I commented to my wife that I hoped somebody was getting bribed to purchase them, otherwise there was no way to justify their many disadvantages and high acquisition/operating costs.

The FBI needs to bring out their crowbar, and pry the lid off of every box labelled "public -private partnership", which is just another phrase for "corrupt arrangement to funnel money to our friends and campaign donors".

Gaming the purchasing system for the City of Portland is near next to impossible. Ellis has no power to "award" a contract for the City. In fact getting a contract done is an extensive Bureaucratic process.

Every contract has to be advertised and awarded through the Bureau of Purchasing. It oversees every step in the process. The only thing that Ellis had input to was setting the specifications and asking that the bid process to take place. Once the bids were in most likely the award went to the lowest bidder. (In a worse case situation the lowest bid could have been reviewed by a committee to validate that the bids met the specified requirements, if not then the award would go the the lowest bid that did meet the requirements.)

Then, before a contract is signed it is fully reviewed by the City Attorney's office, and voted on by the City Council.

That contract has had so many people reviewing and giving input to it, claiming Ellis "awarded" it is ignorant.

If you read what actually happened with the parking meters, it was nothing like what you just described. It was basically a sole source contract.

"Amendments, change orders and extensions are not clean slates where a competitive process is followed," Drummond Kahn, who directs audits for Griffin-Valade, said Thursday. Such modifications "tend to function like sole-source contracts."


RichJ, thanks for the huge laugh. Apparently the words no bid contract for the CoP is something you are unfamiliar with.

How about this for gaming the purchasing system of the CoP?




I have less than no respect for the City Attorney's office. They are prime candidates for federal a theft of honest services charge and bar censure. The City Attorney's office has effed up so many contracts it's not funny. Tell me has the city ever recouped a penny from any of the IT messed up projects. Did the City Attorney's office sign off on paying for the malfeasance in project management and estimating for the tram project.

Do I really need to go on here?

As always and in all things:

"Don't follow leaders
Watch the parkin' meters."

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