Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly." -- Touchstone
It's instructive to compare the reaction of the other county commissioners to Jeff Cogen's affair with the impeachment of President Clinton. Both involved a leader having a consensual affair with an indirect subordinate who worked in the White House, though Mr. Clinton was impeached not for his involvement with Monica Lewinsky but for lying about it under oath. A mostly party-line vote in the Senate acquitted Mr. Clinton, with the Democrats arguing that Mr. Clinton's private involvement with a subordinate did not reflect on his fitness to hold office, and the Republicans maintaining that it did. One oddity of the current situation in Multnomah County is that the four other commissioners, all Democrats, want Mr. Cogen to resign for conduct eerily similar to President Clinton's. This implies that if they had been Senators in 1999 they would, under the same principles, have all voted to convict President Clinton and remove him from office. That's going to make for some interesting conversation if Hillary Clinton should ask for the commissioners' support in the 2016 presidential primary.
The Oregonian reports this afternoon that Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz has asked the same question I posed this morning: who at Multnomah County gave the order for Sonia Manhas to be fired? As written by Brad Schmidt: "Fritz declined to comment on Cogen's decision to reject calls from the Board of County Commissioners for his resignation. But Fritz did say the county should explain why Manhas was forced to resign Wednesday and who in the county pushed for it."
Who indeed pushed for Ms. Manhas to leave the county, making some say that the county has a double standard, one for women and one, much more lax, for men? I believe that with one exception, everyone above Ms. Manhas in the county hierarchy -- every one of the suspects -- is female: her supervisor, the county attorney, the deputy county attorney, and the four commissioners. Mr. Cogen himself is the lone exception, leading to the Homeric conclusion that unless Mr. Cogen himself ordered her to lose her job, Ms. Manhas became the victim of a double standard applied not by the male establishment, but by other women.
I followed this morning's hearing at Multnomah County with great interest. The commissioners listened to public testimony on a resolution, introduced by Judy Shiprack, that calls on county chair Jeff Cogen to resign because of his affair with Sonia Manhas, a manager in the county's public health department. Ms. Manhas has resigned her position, saying that unnamed county officials forced her to quit. The commissioners voted 4 to 1 for the resolution, with Mr. Cogen understandably voting against it.
One argument that Mr. Cogen's detractors are making is that since the other person in the affair was forced to resign over this issue, in fairness Mr. Cogen should resign also. Let's assume that unnamed county officials in fact forced Ms. Manhas to resign. Consider the possibilities.
First, Ms. Manhas may have violated county policies so egregiously that she deserved to be fired. In that case the question should be whether Mr. Cogen also violated county policies so egregiously that he should resign. The public evidence so far indicates that he didn't.
Second, Ms. Manhas may not have violated county policies sufficiently to merit being fired. In that case the question the commissioners should be asking is not whether Mr. Cogen should resign, but who at the county unjustly pushed Ms. Manhas out. The number of suspects is limited: the five commissioners, Ms. Manhas's supervisor, and the county attorney. It strikes me as very odd that the county has not disclosed who decided to fire Ms. Manhas.
Third, it's possible that Ms. Manhas did not tell the truth when she said that county officials forced her to resign, but in that case the county would have promptly denied her statement and said that she resigned of her own free will and not under pressure from her employer. The county hasn't said so, so I rule this out.
Thus, it's wrong to say "Ms. Manhas had to leave, so Mr. Cogen should also," unless both of them violated county policy to the same egregious degree. If the other commissioners believe that Ms. Manhas was unjustly terminated, then they should find out who ordered her to leave. There's time enough to look into what Mr. Cogen did.
I think people were saving up their scandals waiting for Professor Bogdanski to start his blog sabbatical, including perhaps the one involving Multnomah County chair Jeff Cogen and county health department manager Sonia Manhas, who had a workplace affair that recently ended. It's a story with all the elements of the genre: rising political star, attractive employee, out-of-town trips, flirtatious e-mails, and so on. The crescendo of disclosures led the Oregonian to call on Monday for Mr. Cogen to resign.
Much as I'd instinctively like to join the chorus to "throw the rascal out," I've been searching through all of the smoke looking for the fire, and I haven't found it. The suspicion that their relationship brought Ms. Manhas preferential treatment doesn't so far have any facts behind it. Her push to work two days a week in his office was an idea that Mr. Cogen said he liked, but so far as has been reported, did nothing to bring about. The only county money he expended on their affair, at least as reported so far, is $50 on a hotel room upgrade in Atlanta. (At that modest rate, one Rudy Crew is worth dozens of Jeff Cogens.) Notably absent from the smokestorm is any allegation that Mr. Cogen and Ms. Manhas broke a law or a county policy.
Mr. Cogen and Ms. Manhas have brought shame on themselves and embarrassment to his wife, her husband, and their children. But merely being the object of derision is not, even in politically correct Portland, a firing offense. I'd like to see Mr. Cogen stay in his job and let the voters judge him in the next election based on his performance in the boardroom. I do predict that he won't be going to many out-of-state conferences between now and then.
I can't be the only one perplexed by the latest complaint of the Portland Police Association, the union that represents the rank and file of Portland's police. As reported here by the Oregonian, the PPA has filed a grievance alleging that Mike Reese, the Chief of Police, went out on patrol with a lieutenant on three days in May, instead of assigning the patrol shifts to PPA union members at overtime rates of pay. The union asserts, possibly correctly, that the City's contract with the PPA prohibits officers who are not members of the PPA from going on patrols. Chief Reese is not a member of the PPA. (The higher-ups in the Police Bureau are members of a different union.)
Not every wrong needs to be righted. A police union that complains because a Portland police officer, in this case the chief, is actually out in a car patrolling has got a tin ear (I'm tempted to say a brass ear) for the mood of the public and the City Council. It's hard to like a union that wants to keep the police chief off the streets. Curiously, it doesn't appear that the PPA has complained about Chief Reese's practice of filling patrol shifts for the PPA members who have been named Employee of the Month, something that the chief will have to stop doing if the union wins this round.
As state law requires it to do every five years, the City of Portland is updating its comprehensive plan, the document that sets out in broad terms what land uses the City will allow, and where, and on what conditions. (The zoning ordinance, which by law must be consistent with the comprehensive plan, provides more specific day-to-day rules.)
As part of this process, the Planning Bureau solicits public comment, both through traditional means such as open houses and mailed questionnaires and through modern methods, including e-newsletters, online surveys, and the Bureau's Facebook page. One of the Bureau's surveys ran through May 1, and the Bureau told the good citizens that their answers would "help refine and amend many of the goals and policies in the Working Draft Part 1 of the Comprehensive Plan" and "help staff answer some critical questions around infrastructure investments, watershed health, industrial land development and housing choices."
The survey was composed by people knowledgeable about planning, but not so much about surveys. One responder noted that almost all of the questions were compound questions that combined two questions into one, so that you could answer "yes" to both parts, or "no" to both parts, but not "yes" to one and "no" to the other. (An example of a compound question, not from the survey: "Do you support protecting social security for the elderly and instituting the death penalty for jaywalkers?" The title of this post is another example.) For example, one of the survey questions asked if you want to "promote 'ecologically friendly' industrial sites through monetary incentives and technical assistance." I couldn't answer that question; I favor promoting environmentally friendly industrial sites through technical assistance (providing knowledge) and not through monetary incentives (paying people not to mess up the City). Yet I would have to support both or neither.
Another question asked if the City should "subsidize the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields." These are two different things: the first part asks if the City should pay for part of the cost to clean up old industrial sites; the second part asks if the City should pay people to build new projects on the cleaned-up sites. I might support the City paying part of the cost to clean up someone's environmental mess, in collaboration with DEQ and EPA and then pursuing the responsible party to repay the cost, but be less excited about the City subsidizing a project on private land, whether clean or dirty, under the benign if mistaken belief that the City is a real estate developer.
The Bureau says that it will release the results this month. The results will be interesting, not so much for the answers as for the questions. Also interesting will be learning whether the Bureau hired an outside consultant to write the rather sloppy questions. For the record, I favor protecting Venerable Mom's social security and I oppose the death penalty for jaywalkers.
Last year the voters of Clackamas County passed an initiative which requires the county to seek the voters' approval before providing any money or other resources to light rail. The county's first election is this May, though some assert that the election results won't affect commitments that the county made before the voters passed the initiative.
The next light rail funding election is likely to be in Milwaukie, but not because of the county initiative, which doesn't apply to cities. Rather, it's because Milwaukie's councilors and management have discovered that the city can't afford the commitment it already made to the new light rail line. As told in thePortland Tribune this week: "In 2008, city officials signed on to paying TriMet $4 million for the light-rail line under construction.... TriMet renegotiated a payment plan with Milwaukie after it became clear that the city wouldn't be able to pay within 90 days of the Federal Transit Administration's 50 percent match to the $1.49 billion total project cost." The city and TriMet negotiated a 19-year payment plan, with the last payment ($364,875) coming due in 2031. TriMet is charging interest at 5%, incidentally.
According to the Tribune, Milwaukie's city manager "predicted that the city can make the payment for this year and next year, . . . but the payments would quickly lead to an unsustainable situation in following years." Translated, that means that the city will have to either raise taxes or cut services in order to pay its bill to TriMet. The city council plans to ask voters which choice they prefer, and will also possibly put a bond measure on the ballot to support a particular city service, perhaps parks or the city library.
So Milwaukie's situation is different from Clackamas County's: the city won't be asking voters whether they want to pay $5 million for light rail, but whether they want to pay $5 million to keep the city services that the council would otherwise have to cut in order to pay for light rail. Nothing in the article suggested that anyone's asked the councilors who were serving in 2008, and who committed Milwaukie to pay the $5 million, where they expected to find the money. I doubt the voters expected that they might look to the parks and libraries to pay for the trains.
One quirk of the arts tax imposed by the City of Portland through the will of the well-meaning voters in November is that it taxes the full-year 2012 income of Portland residents even though it didn't take effect until December 5, 2012, when 339 days of the year had already passed. The act defines a "resident" of Portland to include persons who spent 200 days or more in the City, with some exceptions not important here, bringing up the delightful possibility that the estates of Portlanders who died between June 18 and December 4, 2012 are liable for the $35 head tax even though they died before the tax came into being, giving the government an unexpected reason to reread the obituaries.
A few days ago Metro released the market impact study for the proposed Convention Center hotel. (Here's the Oregonian story reporting that happy fact.) The study, performed by a firm nondescriptly named Strategic Advisory Group, says that the Oregon Convention Center would attract more conventions if a 600-room headquarters hotel were built across the street. I read the study with great interest. Its reasoning seems sound and the methodology is better than what I expected. I was also impressed with SAG because it included one hotel project, Detroit's, in which it concluded that there was not enough demand to justify building a convention center hotel. (Beware the consultant who always gives the same answer.)
The consultancy's website includes a list of eleven convention center hotel projects that it's worked on, which you can read by following this link. One of them is the Portland project, which SAG describes in these words:
The City of Portland desired to increase it marketability within the convention and tradeshow industry. With a recently completed expansion of the Oregon Convention Center, those charged with marketing and booking the facility continued to face obstacles in attracting many key, high-impact events. Would-be customers of the Center and visitors of the City frequently vocalized the need for a larger, first-quality hotel adjacent to the OCC. Therefore, the City of Portland, the Portland Oregon Visitors Association (now "Travel Portland"), and later the Portland Development Commission engaged SAG to create a Headquarter Hotel Strategic Plan and help realize the project. The project involved understanding and defining the market, customer needs, and required hotel program; assessing the impact of a new headquarter hotel on the existing hotel market; quantifying the economic impact on the OCC and the community; estimating the hotel's cost and financial feasibility.
SAG's description includes this juicy bit:
SAG's Plan did detail a need for a new hotel but also described other necessary steps Portland would need to take to truly maximize its penetration in the industry.
Why is this a juicy bit? The study that Metro released is only part of what SAG did for Metro.
The study that the Oregonian links to doesn't include the list of "other necessary steps" that Portland must take to "maximize its penetration of the industry," that is, to get more convention business. SAG told Metro. Metro should tell us.