PORTLAND'S ELECTED OFFICIALS get unlimited vacation time, and they like to snatch it up in the sunny summer months. (Commissioner Steve Novick, for instance, is only just returning after a trip he began after the May 17 election, when he found he'd face a November runoff.) Most years, that adds up to some fairly sleepy city council agendas, kept light while officials take time off.
But this year? That won't matter. Chaos seems to be sprouting up all over Portland public officialdom as the weather warms. Look at just some of the news that's unfolded in recent weeks:
• Police Chief Larry O'Dea mistakenly shot a friend on a camping trip, then managed to convince his superiors (namely Mayor Charlie Hales) to keep it buttoned up—until, that is, it eventually leaked out.
O'Dea's conduct is under investigation (including whether he lied to a deputy investigating the shooting), but now we've got a new place to level suspicion: It looks very much like the police bureau's Professional Standards Division—the people charged with making sure cops follow the rules—didn't follow the rules.
The department's head of internal affairs, Captain Derek Rodrigues, learned of O'Dea's mistake on April 25, according to the bureau. But Rodrigues didn't launch an internal investigation into the incident until May 23, after the shooting became public. That's a full week after a formal criminal investigation into the incident began, and appears to fly in the face of a bureau directive on criminal investigations on police bureau employees.
Bureau spokesperson Sergeant Pete Simpson says the bureau isn't conducting an internal investigation into Rodrigues' lack of action, pointing out the city's Independent Police Review has launched an inquiry. Two Portland police unions have called for Rodrigues to be transferred from his position.
• Then there's lead. A little more than a week after Portland Public Schools admitted it hadn't taken proper steps to immediately shield kids from water fountains it knew had worrisome lead levels, Portland's parks bureau found itself in the fray.
Portland Parks and Recreation issued a surprising release—on a Sunday—admitting that elevated lead levels were found in Multnomah Arts Center drinking fountains in 2013, but that the fountains weren't given filters until May 31 of this year (after the schools' lead crisis began). The release took pains to shield Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz from scrutiny, saying she wasn't told by her bureau of the readings. But there are a lot of unanswered questions: Like the fact that parks leadership says it learned of the lead results on a Friday, but that filters had been replaced the previous Tuesday.
• Finally, there's the city's continuous outcry over air toxics. Just as Bullseye Glass appears to have entered into a final, stringent understanding with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality over its emissions, the US Forest Service is preparing to release data on moss readings—first reported by the Mercury—that reveal even more potential toxics hotspots.
The data might well present concerns about air quality in the Pearl District or around Portland State University, among other places.
And to think, the summer's just getting started.