Money spent on loos, elections in play as judge mulls decision

The city attorney’s office must document how much water and environmental money was spent on Portland Loos and the former Voter Owned Election program to appeal a judge’s ruling that ratepayer spending must be “reasonably related” to the missions of the water and environmental bureaus.

Even then, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Stephen Bushong has not promised he will

allow the appeal in the long-running ratepayer lawsuit against some water and environmental spending decisions that is still far from finished. But, during a June 5 hearing on the city’s request, Bushong said he would make the decision after the city shows how much ratepayer money it spent on the public toilets and the public campaign financing program that voters repealed a few years ago.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of several Portland ratepayers, claims the City Council has repeated misspent money collected by the Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services, which operates the city’s sewer system and stormwater management programs. Ratepayer lawyers claimed the spending must be directly related to the missions of the two bureaus. City lawyers countered that the council has broad discretion in determining how the funds are spent.

After during the parties to select and argue four test cases, Bushong essentially split the difference, finding the spending must be reasonably related to the mission of the bureaus. He ruled that the $618,000 spent on the toilets and the $550,000 spent on the election program did not meet that standard. At the same time, Bushong ruled the $6 million spent to preserve an undeveloped portion of River View Cemetery and the $4.4 million spent to pay TriMet to relocate water lines for a MAX project were justified.

The city attorney’s office subsequently asked Bushong to finalize his rulings in those four cases so they could be appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals. At the June 4 hearing, Deputy City Attorney Terry Thatcher said the city did not object to the reasonably related standard. However, Thatcher said, because the case is likely to be appealed after it is over, the city wants to learn whether the appeals county will apply a different standard to the spending before the case proceeds.

Bushing agreed that there were no clear precedents, but indicated he was willing to consider the city’s request once the four test cases are finalized. Bushong said the two cases the city won are basically finished, but directed Thatcher to finish documenting all spending on the toilets and former election program. Thatcher agreed and said it should not take too long to comply with the request.

In the meantime, lawyers for the ratepayers still expect to begin receiving city documents and conducting deposition in the next program in the suit, the BES spending on the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup, estimated at more than $52 million.

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