City Commissioner Amanda Fritz drew barely concealed ire in city council last week by proposing a pay freeze next year for non-union employees. The move came weeks after Fritz's fellow commissioners, Randy Leonard and Dan Saltzman, voted to give themselves a 2.8 percent raise this year, along with the city's other 1,500 non-union employees. The raise fell in line with an earlier similar raise awarded to union employees, but coincided with a city budget cutting 112 jobs.
Fritz's idea got a chilly reception from her fellow commissioners: After exhibiting some memorable disgruntled expressions, Leonard accused Fritz of trying to divide the city's workforce and also of sexism—since the majority of non-union employees are women working for male managers, he said. "I'm not going to go there on the gender issue," Fritz responded.
Meanwhile Nick Fish proposed what I've christened a "fuck you amendment," suggesting Fritz's ordinance should be "postponed indefinitely" until the next budget cycle. "It's premature," Fish said, and Mayor Sam Adams agreed. Snap.
Since that meeting, I've been trying to figure out if Fritz's idea was foolish or exceptionally smart. On the one hand, Fritz burned through political capital with her colleagues without winning a single vote on her resolution. On the other, she showed she's not afraid to break with city hall's cautious traditions, or step on a few (giant) egos to make points about saving taxpayers' money. Hmmm.
Winston Churchill once said a person with enemies must have stood up for something, sometime in their life. And like Churchill, it seems Fritz did an exceptional job last week of identifying her audience. As a publicly funded candidate, she's accountable to the taxpayers of Portland, not campaign donors or her council colleagues, and her unusual new approach is likely to win more fans, albeit strictly outside city hall.
"I was elected by the people of Portland to make prudent decisions," Fritz said in council. "I believe the ongoing financial crisis demands making prudent choices throughout the fiscal year to avoid layoffs later on."
Saltzman also spoke in support of Fritz's resolution. "We did vote for our 2.8 percent [cost-of-living] raise," he admitted. "And we took a lot of flack for that."
If nothing else, Fritz and Saltzman score points for striking the right tone on this issue. Plus, if Fritz is drawing Leonard's attention to fiscal issues then there must be something good in her efforts.