If Mayor Tom Potter is growing into his new nickname—Mayor McProcess—City Commissioner Dan Saltzman is quickly growing into his role as the favorite enemy of those in the city who prize process above all other values.
That journey began two years ago, when Saltzman, as the commissioner in charge of the parks bureau, decided to cover up the Mt. Tabor reservoirs without "processing"—that is, without getting the Mt. Tabor neighborhood's permission. After an outcry, the reservoirs were uncovered, and the city took a hit on the cost of the gigantic-ass tarps. "See?" the die-hard process disciples proclaimed. "This is what happens when you ignore process."
The same cries could be heard last week, when Saltzman and Potter pushed forward on a plan to give the old John Ball School site in North Portland to a group called Hope Meadows, which planned to build a facility for foster kids to live with the elderly. (What, no room for a kitty rescue home?)
Saltzman had talked about the idea during the budgeting cycle, when he made a pitch for the city to buy the school site. He even attempted to sell the Portsmouth Neighborhood Association on the plan, but they felt like it was being forced on them and quit listening. So last week, Saltzman brought the idea forward anyway, much to the outrage of the neighbors, who screamed about the lack of process.
(Of course, the objections weren't all just about process—some of the neighbors at last week's council session were actively opposed to the project itself. "There are already too many troubled kids in North Portland," they said. In other words, "Not in my backyard.")
Commissioners Sam Adams and Randy Leonard joined in on the chorus, admonishing Saltzman for not properly taking the project to the neighbors. Still, Saltzman won out, with the reluctant support of Erik Sten, and the unquestioning support of Potter (weird, given his penchant for process). To his critics, Saltzman responded, "I think the city council has the power to decide what's the best use for that space." Snap!
Here's what Saltzman won't say: If you're a neighbor, the quickest way to kill a project you don't like is to say there wasn't enough process. That allows you to rant and rave in order to get your way—without ever having to simply say you don't want to live next to foster kids. Or on "Rosa Parks Way."
And guess what—it works. Say the word "process" to a Portland official, and they'll crumble like a drunken donkey. Now that's power.
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