Hall Monitor 

Elected Representatives

Last week's city council hearing on the Columbia River Crossing was painful.

For starters, 79—yes, 79!—people testified in detail about a new bridge on I-5, with the majority of people urging the council to reject the proposal in front of them. That proposal—which calls for up to 12 lanes of traffic, plus light rail and bike/pedestrian facilities (read more about it in the story "A Better Bridge")—was bashed for a few solid hours.

"I don't believe you have a viable option in front of you," said folks like Bill Scott of Zipcar, who pointed out problems like the big bridge's impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and the $4.2 billion price tag when the region has other needs.

Meanwhile, the mayor's office received over 1,100 emails from people who wanted to weigh in on the crossing. According to the mayor's public advocate, 95 percent of those who chimed in urged the council to vote against the current proposal.

In the end, the council made a unanimous decision—they voted in favor of the bridge proposal.

Huh? Wait a sec—aren't these guys supposed to represent us?

One thing was crystal clear at the July 9 hearing: The council members take the first part of their "elected representative" title far more seriously than the second part, and made what they felt was the politically astute decision. The elected leaders' logic? Approving the flawed proposal and attaching a long list of stipulations—plus having faith that the Oregon Department of Transportation will let Portland have a continued say in the project—was a smarter move than putting the city's foot down, and forcing the project back to square one. As Commissioner Sam Adams explained, the "raw material exists" to craft a great project... eventually.

I sure hope he's right.

Before the Columbia Crossing hearing, the council dealt with another contentious and tedious issue: whether to impose a tighter deadline on council paperwork. Right now, the council members can file an ordinance by the end of the day on a Thursday, for the next Wednesday's meeting. But Auditor Gary Blackmer came to the council to request an extra day, so his staff has time to post documents online.

The council, led by Commissioner Randy Leonard, balked, complaining that Blackmer's presentation to the council that day was "the first time I've heard" about the problem. "I think there's a better way to approach this than just you developing a solution and coming in here," Leonard said.

But Blackmer—the sixth elected representative at city hall—told the council he tries to talk to them about issues in his office, but is rebuffed.

"I've been waiting three or four weeks to see the mayor, three weeks with Commissioner Adams. Other things come up that are higher priority. That's what I face with you: 'Get in line.' My items tend to be low priority," Blackmer said. Making matters worse, he's been uninvited from the weekly "execs" meeting, where the council members' chiefs of staff gather to hash out upcoming issues.

Ultimately, the council opted to hold Blackmer's proposal for a few weeks—which should be plenty of time for the whole gang to kiss and make up.

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