Mark Kaufman/Artomat
Perhaps in the long run, Portland Development Commission's botched--and still pending--development decision over the Burnside Bridgehead will turn out to be just what the city needed. For years, community leaders have lamented that PDC is a freewheeling agency--more accountable to their own ambitions and egos than the city's best interests.

But what could be considered a perfect bureaucratic storm reached its apex three weeks ago, when the PDC Board rejected both public input and recommendations from its own evaluation committee to select a Minnesota-based development company, Opus, to head up the $200 million Burnside Bridgehead project. That decision quickly turned into a shitstorm for PDC, the city agency that directs the bulk of the city's urban development and handles millions of dollars in public revenue.

In the days following the decision to award the Burnside Bridgehead contract to Opus, it came to light that the PR representative for Opus, Nathaniel Clevenger, was buddy-buddy with the head of the PDC Board, Matt Hennessee--so close that Clevenger serves as a political consultant for Hennessee. And with what seemed to be an even more damning relationship of impropriety, Clevenger had received juicy contracts from PDC over the past two years. Those contracts were awarded with no consideration of bids from other firms.

PDC's growing appearance of impropriety with the Burnside Bridgehead decision helped inspire an appeal from Beam Construction, the losing developer. But that appeal has only raised more concerns about PDC's insular and untouchable nature: It seems as if the appeals process will be handled by the PDC Board, the very ones who are being investigated. Although City Commissioner Erik Sten suggested that city council serve as the appeals board, the city attorney has advised that PDC is legally outside city council's grasp.

But all of PDC's immunities--and the independence that they've enjoyed for so long--may now contribute to their undoing. Last week, City Commissioner Randy Leonard submitted a resolution to abolish PDC in its current formation and draw it under the direct control of city council.

"This was a culmination of complaints and concerns since Randy has been in office," said Stacy Chamberlain, a policy advisor for Leonard.

In addition to the recent blowout over Burnside Bridgehead, Leonard had a frustrating time with PDC while working on the city's budget. According to Chamberlain, he met with stubbornness from PDC when requesting information on their finances.

"There are no checks and balances [on PDC]," Chamberlain concluded. "It was time to have a discussion about PDC and its function."

The resolution will be heard by city council on June 15. If the resolution passes, that matter would be decided in a voter initiative in the next election cycle.

But it remains unclear if Leonard can muster enough support for the resolution. He has a sympathetic ear with Commissioner Sam Adams, who, in his first five months in office, has emerged as the council's most energetic and progressive member. Adams was the only commissioner to attend all of PDC's public hearings on the Burnside Bridgehead.

"PDC's blood on the floor is from a self-inflicted wound," quipped Adams. Adams also went on to refute that the PDC Board is the proper entity to hear the appeal against their decision.

"Any clouds that hang over the decision," explained Adams, "should be examined by an outside party."

But even Adams has reservations about Leonard's proposal.Mayor Potter also seems to oppose Leonard's approach. Instead, according to the mayor's spokesperson, John Doussard, Potter has encouraged the competing developers--Bruce Wood from Opus, and Brad Malsin from Beam--to speak with each other and hammer out a solution. Doussard added that the mayor favors leaving the matter of PDC's fate until October, when Potter kicks off his Community Visioning Process.

"It's not up to the mayor to decide," explained Doussard.