CITY COUNCIL dynamics are a tricky thing—presenting occasional glimpses of beauty and hilarity amid all their dull utility.
Take our current, fast-expiring council, which since 2013 has earned a reputation as one of the more discordant bunches ever to take the dais. Relations were so strained at one point that the council held a special retreat to air grievances and repair bruised feelings.
And now look at them! Roughly three weeks before Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick are slated to bid City Hall adieu, this council is putting together its most ambitious single week of policy discussions yet.
Should Portland enact a new publicly financed campaign system without letting voters decide? Will we require developers of condo and apartment buildings of more than 20 units to include affordable housing? Should we penalize companies that pay their CEOs audacious salaries? Will the city seal itself off to major new fossil fuel terminals?
Any one of these questions would be the central policy discussion the council takes up in a normal week. Instead they’re being shoehorned into a mishmash of hectic glory.
So why’s this happening? Largely because of that expiration date I mentioned up above.
This council, for all its occasional harrumphing, has found an equilibrium where it looks like each of these Very Big Deals can pass—if not unanimously, at least by the requisite 3-2 margin. But it’s got to get them in under the wire, lest Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler and Commissioner-elect Chloe Eudaly come in and muddy things up.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, architect of the Open and Accountable Elections proposal that would see millions in city dollars funding political candidates, needs her two departing colleagues. Hales and Novick are widely expected to be the two crucial “yes” votes that ensure the proposal passes—notably with no say from voters, who in 2010 killed the city’s last campaign finance plan. The prevailing sense is that Wheeler is skeptical of the plan (not Eudaly).
Two more of the proposals are priorities Novick and Hales are hoping to notch before leaving office.
Before being ousted by Eudaly, Novick had called his idea to tax companies that pay their CEOs at least 100 times the average employee salary a legacy issue. Council already held an initial hearing on the plan, meaning it might vote it into place Wednesday afternoon.
The same goes for a fossil fuel proposal from Hales, who’s been frank about using his position to combat climate change in any way he can. The mayor’s hoping to convince his colleagues to approve a ban on new fossil fuel terminals on Thursday. It would be the strictest measure taken by any city in the nation, if it passes. A big deal.
Then there’s Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s “Inclusionary Housing” proposal, which would force developers to include affordable housing on big new projects. It is probably the most fraught of the four items I’m mentioning here—and should amount to hours of conflicting testimony on Thursday afternoon.
Also, there are at least 25 other items council will take up—many notable.
As I say: Pity me.