WHEN THE MAYOR announced last month that he'd be pulling a proposed charter amendment meant to assure voters that a hoped-for new street fee would be spent wisely, it was billed exclusively as a deft tip of the cap to the intense ire of confused citizens.
That charter amendment would have gone on this fall's ballot. And Mayor Charlie Hales and City Commissioner Steve Novick, in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, had already decided, weeks before, to push a vote on the street fee itself until a date that fell after the fall election.
For a lot of people, that timeline—marking your ballot to restrict how the city council might spend a fee that technically hadn't been approved yet—was entirely too strange.
"The issue was confusing to people," Hales said in a press release distributed on June 26. "If the charter change is muddying the real message—that we must take care of our streets—then we'll take it off the table."
But, as it turns out, sources in city hall say Hales had an additional, previously unreported reason to blink.
Hales and Novick had run afoul of their crucial third vote on the street fee, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz. Fritz, the city's parks commissioner, told them she was worried the charter amendment might drag down a parks bond renewal she'd been concurrently aiming at the November ballot.
Her bond proposal, according to polling released last month, has supermajority support—provided people understand it's a renewal and not something new they'd have to be paying. It would raise up to $68 million for repairs and deferred maintenance at sites across the city.
The street fee, in comparison, barely had majority support in a transportation bureau poll released earlier this year. And that was before Hales and Novick began describing the proposed fee in detail—ultimately pulling back and pondering major changes after all that detail left business owners and residents and others deeply upset.
It was already clear Fritz had issues with the charter amendment—not just its timing, but also its wording. But she also didn't want any residual, anti-city-hall backlash spilling over onto her proposal.
Fritz has been out of the country, visiting family in the United Kingdom, and couldn't be reached for comment. But sources in city hall say others close to the proposal shared her concerns.
Crucially, one of those people was Hales himself, the mayor's office has confirmed. Hales, a former parks commissioner, is a backer of the bond renewal, sources say. He also pragmatically weighed two potentially competing priorities.
"It was a concern she expressed and a consideration that they took into account when they decided to pull the charter amendment," says Sara Hottman, a spokeswoman for Hales' office. "But the primary reasons were the ones our office articulated."
Fritz clearly has been taking the parks bond seriously. Beyond the polling, she's invited reporters on a tour of blighted parks facilities. And she's also hired professional campaign hands—like former Sam Adams staffer Amy Ruiz—to help sharpen the city's message. That's a major commitment.
And all the more reason, it seems, not to make things muddier than they already are.