AMANDA FRITZ was on Twitter and feeling pretty good over the Presidents' Day holiday. So good, in fact, she almost veered into an unfamiliar realm: self-congratulation.
"Nice quiet day responding to emails and updating the Sick Leave proposal," the city commissioner wrote. "Task Force members' input is very helpful. Family dinner tonight!"
Not that plaudits are undeserved. Fritz's paid sick leave plan is all but certain to become the law of the land next month, after business and labor advocates and others finish fixing it up into something they can abide by. And that's a good thing—for consumers and for thousands of workers who'd otherwise lose pay or their job to do something basic like stay home to nurse a cold.
But the council, because of Fritz's push, may have gained something even more important.
The task force that she and Commissioner Dan Saltzman crafted—a way to help slide the sick-leave pill down the clenched throats of the grocery lobby, the restaurant lobby, the Portland Business Alliance (PBA), and Venture Portland—could wind up revolutionizing the way Portland officials handle controversial business.
Consider how things usually (don't) work:
Some unsung city hall staffer draws up the draft of an ordinance. Lobbyists and advocates walk from council office to council office trying to peddle their talking points and prod commissioners into seeing things their way.
The ordinance is finalized. Citizens without that level of access show up at a five-hour council hearing or two, joining all the lobbyists from before, and everyone bellows about fine points in front of commissioners who've already mostly made up their minds. Nothing much changes, the law is passed, and the losers crawl away feeling sour.
Now consider the average scene at a sick-leave task force meeting. In one small room, an AFL-CIO rep sits between two big-time Oregon lobbyists. A restaurant owner sits close to another business lobbyist. Other advocates are sprinkled around the remaining chairs. And nearly every potentially heartburn-causing element in the bill is up for consideration.
So what happens? People trade ideas. They identify and then solve legitimate problems and technical issues. They don't shout or let things get personal. Hopefully, everyone feels like they've been able to shape the ordinance just a little bit, holding onto a modicum of control so as not to feel so violated at the end.
Not that it's perfect. The PBA, for the record, is maybe still feeling sour. Its spokeswoman moaned to the Oregonian over the weekend about Fritz not respecting their feelings. Boo-hoo.
After a task force meeting last week, Fritz politely agreed when I suggested that the process should serve as a model for other issues. Her fellow co-chair, Saltzman, the guy who led the charge for the panel, also sees some promise.
"I've been very impressed with the goodwill in the room," he allows. "This could be a prototype."
Saltzman said he assumed any naysayers had "long since abandoned the notion" they'd win.
"The PBA," he quips, "may not have felt that way until recently."