ADD ANOTHER hugely complicated policy dream to the legacy list Mayor Sam Adams is working furiously to finish before his one and only term expires this December.
According to a draft document obtained by the Mercury, the mayor's office is actively looking to redraw the nearly 30-year-old contract that governs Portland's relationship with Multnomah County. Basically, Adams wants another go at how the two agencies divvy up—and finance—essential government services like housing, health care, transportation, and public safety.
At stake is the fate of scores of government employees and thousands of residents who rely on the two governments either for direct aid or to quietly provide things like good roads and safe neighborhoods. And it's not entirely clear if the mayor will get his wish.
Beyond mending his sometimes-fractious relationship with county officials—the two sides have sparred recently over the Sellwood Bridge rebuild and plans to create a new library taxing district—Adams also must convince his skeptical colleagues in city hall.
And, as time runs out for their boss, Adams' staff is already knee-deep in several other difficult projects that the mayor is equally determined to muscle through: annexing West Hayden Island for the Port of Portland, fixing up the Rose Quarter and Memorial Coliseum, securing private cash for the proposed Oregon Sustainability Center, and defending the decision to fire the police officer who shot and killed Aaron Campbell.
"Sam characterized [the restructuring] as something he wanted to get done," says Commissioner Randy Leonard, Adams' strongest political ally on city council, adding that Adams mentioned it as "this thing I'd like you to comment on."
Generally, the county handles social services programs, while the city tends to brick-and-mortar needs—with a lot of awkward overlap in between. Among the notable shifts pondered in the draft agreement, as described in a list delineating which services each agency would either control or share:
• Portland would take over all transportation oversight and maintenance, duties that are currently split between the two governments. Portland has, for months, been trying to take control of Multnomah County's Willamette River bridges.
• The city also would assume responsibility for "public safety"—leaving the county in charge of running the area's jails and court system. That could involve taking over the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, but likely would include a play for the county's river patrol unit. Adams tried last year, but couldn't reach a deal with Sheriff Dan Staton.
• Safety net services would not be listed as "shared" by the two agencies, even though that's been an area, especially recently, where the two governments have worked in tandem.
Adams' staff has acknowledged the seriousness of the restructuring effort—taking time this summer to craft the draft document and then share it, in hushed tones, around city hall. And Adams' desire to slash costs in a time of budget cuts by coming up with regional budgets for transportation and public safety isn't new.
But his office—which initially declined to release the draft as a public record, saying it was too early to discuss it—wouldn't comment or provide any specifics beyond what was written down.
Reworking just one of those service sectors would be an enormous, time-consuming feat—and that's if the county is a willing partner in the renegotiation. Earlier this year, the mayor backed down on attempts to reduce how much the police bureau pays the sheriff's office for inmate fingerprinting. Similarly, an attempt to have the county take over SUN schools—neighborhood-based education centers for low-income kids—ran aground after weeks of intense discussion because of labor contract challenges.
The response from County Chairman Jeff Cogen's office was measured. County spokesman David Austin confirmed only that Cogen has had "minimal" discussions with Adams.
"We haven't seen this document, but Jeff has had discussions with Sam about how the city and county can work better together," Austin says.
"Jeff Cogen has always been interested in figuring out ways to partner with government, nonprofits, and other agencies to improve service delivery."
Adams also has his work cut out winning support in his own building.
"There's stuff missing here," says a city hall source. "It was something they were working on in a hurry. Not a surprise I guess."
But Leonard, when asked if Adams' attempt was futile, given everything else he was working on, pooh-poohed the notion.
"He's focused on it," Leonard says. "And what he's focused on, he sees through."