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Mayor, Fish float water panel proposal

Supporters of public water district say idea is more empty promises


Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Nick Fish are offering Portland voters a deal: the City Council will consider reforming the Water and Sewer Bureau, if they defeat the Portland public water district ballot measure at the May 20 primary election.

“The mayor and I are committed to serious reform proposals and doing things differently,” says Fish, who is in charge of the Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services, which operates the city’s sewer system and stormwater management programs.

But Kent Craford, a co-sponsor of the measure to create a water and sewer district with an independently-elected board, dismisses the promise as a political ploy.

“Voters have seen this movie before. Charlie Hales promised ‘lower water and sewer rates’ in his campaign and then promptly broke that promise once elected,” says Craford, who helped lead the drive to place Measure 26-156 on the ballot. “Enough empty promises, its time for real reform. It’s time for a public water district.”

Fish insists he and Hales are sincere. Fish says they are already reviewing names for a 12- to 15-member “blue ribbon commission” that would be appointed in June and charged with presenting the council with one or more reform proposals in the fall.

Although Fish is not yet ready to release names, he says that none of the people being considered for the commission is involved in either side of the ballot measure fight.

“They will not be the usual suspects. They will all be independent,” says Fish.

And, Fish says Hales has already scheduled an April 30 council forum on other existing reform proposals. They include ideas put forward by the City Club, Portland Business Alliance, a now-defunct city charter review commission and Dan Saltzman. All of them involved creating a body separate from the council to set or propose water, sewer and stormwater rates.

According to Fish, if voters approve the measure next month, its meaning will be challenged in court, leading to years of uncertainty about who is in charge of the bureaus.

The council has already approved an agreement with the statewide Citizens Utility Board to review the budgets of the water and sewer bureaus and weigh in on their spending plans. CUB already provides similar advise to the state Public Utility Commission on private utilities like PGE and PacifiCorp.

CUB has hired Janice Thompson, a former director of Common Cause Oregon, as its consumer advocate for the bureaus. She and other CUB officials are scheduled to present their first report on them on Wednesday, April 16, a little more than a month before the election.

Measure 26-156 was placed on the ballot by an initiative drive financed primarily by large corporate water users, including Siltronic Corp., American Property Management, Portland Bottling Co. and the Hilton Hotel chain. It is opposed by the council, businesses including PacifiCorp and PGE, public employee unions and environmental

organizations.