George Pfromm II
Nearly two weeks ago, Portland Development Commission's executives made their final decision in the selection for the pending Burnside Bridgehead development: In a move that surprised nearly everyone, they unanimously awarded the $200 million contract to a Minnesota-based company, Opus Northwest.

But in the days following that decision, questions about PDC and their selection process have emerged--questions that potentially threaten to unravel that final decision.

The most serious contention to PDC's choice came from Brad Malsin himself, the developer heading up Beam Construction--the firm that was recommended by PDC's own Evaluation Committee and that most people expected to win the contract. Last Wednesday, Malsin filed an appeal against PDC. The exact process and timeline for the appeal remains unclear.

More scandalously, in the days following PDC's decision to award Opus the development contract, questions have been raised about the tight-knit relationship between Matt Hennessee, PDC's executive chairman who oversaw the selection of Opus, and Nathaniel "Than" Clevenger III, the public relations representative for Opus. Over the past few years, Clevenger has informally served as a political advisor to Hennessee. Moreover, PDC has twice awarded well-paying contracts to Clevenger to handle PR matters. In 2003, PDC awarded a $55,000 contract to Clevenger's firm to handle an audit. More recently, PDC handed Clevenger $40,000 to put together a two-hour presentation for the then-incoming mayor Tom Potter to brief him about PDC's operations. This contract was farmed out to Clevenger even though PDC has its own in-house PR staff.

To many, the relationship between Hennessee and Clevenger seems uncomfortably chummy and, in light of the Burnside Bridgehead decision, hints of impropriety. Both men have publicly said that their relationship did not influence PDC's decision in any manner. But in his appeal, Malsin from Beam Construction cites this very relationship as one reason to examine the selection process. Mayor Potter also raised what he termed "concerns."

But the most bemusing uproar over the Burnside Bridgehead came when Clevenger himself embarked on a quasi-PR campaign on his own behalf. Defending his contacts with PDC, he sent an email to a local blogger, b!x, who hosts Portland Communique, a popular site for local news junkies. In a grammatically bumpy email, Clevenger tries to clarify his contracts with PDC. He then goes on to personally attack b!x.

"How many people did you employ?" writes Clevenger. "Or, did paying an intern to help your rumor-mongering business not factor in your parents [sic] monthly support of your hobby? How about you and me in a public debate. You bring your slander and innuendos. I'll bring a group of friends and some chips 'cause I know you can't really afford to buy snacks on your parent's allowance."

With this both cocky and slightly crazed tone, Clevenger continues to taunt b!x: "Oh, but you'll have to crawl from under that rock you live under to do it. Name the place, I'll bring my friends, you bring yours (if you have any). I'd like to see you address me in public the way you do in your site--you sissy."

After a few readers jumped into the fray--both to defend b!x and to saddle Clevenger with names like "thug" and "tough guy"--Clevenger again punched back.

"I think all of us are a little tired of webloggers who sling half-assed arguments while hiding behind a key board," he wrote.

Over the next few days, b!x readers chimed in with 70 or so postings. One posting reads: "Oh, Mr. Clevenger. Public relations specialist. (snicker) Thank you for the most fascinating implosion of recent local times. Unlike Tonya Harding's or Neil Goldschmidt's, yours is funny."

Another posting picks up on this theme: "What a meltdown. That the people who are building our city put their trust in this jackass is really disheartening." (For the entire dialogue, check out communique.portland.or.us)

Although the cyber-war petered out over the weekend, the brouhaha over Burnside Bridgehead continued into the following week when, on Monday, council member Randy Leonard submitted a resolution to abolish PDC in its current form. In its place, Leonard suggests creating an Economic Development Bureau--a move that would bring the organization under the direct control of the mayor and city council.

The matter will be considered by city council on Wednesday, June 15, at 6 pm.