Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



The political future of the Portland Water Bureau is in question due to a series of sometimes small, but nonetheless boneheaded decisions.

It is therefore appropriate that city officials hoping to fend off a takeover of the bureau in May are attempting to unwind some of those decisions — large and small — and quickly establish an image of greater competency for the bureau’s leadership.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Nick Fish announced that the city would sell the Water House in outer East Portland. This structure — which cost between $456,000 and $940,000 to build, depending on how you calculate it — was intended to be a demonstration project to showcase water conservation and energy-efficient practices. Along the way, it also showcased just how tone-deaf the city could be in its management of a bureau that’s been under consistent criticism for the past several years.

The cost of the Water House, while minor in comparison to the overall budget of the Water Bureau, had become just one more nagging issue for the city. The move to sell off the property and recover most of the Water House’s hard costs takes away some of the ammunition for the people behind a May 2014 initiative that seeks to change how the Water Bureau is governed.

The disposal of the Water House is the latest effort by Fish, Mayor Charlie Hales and others to undo some of the more controversial actions of former Water Commissioner Randy Leonard. The City Council previously agreed to use general fund dollars to repay the bureau $1.6 million for remodeling a

former restaurant in Gov. Tom

McCall Waterfront Park and transferring it to the Portland Rose Festival Association.

That project plus the Water House and the famous Portland Loos were viewed by many as frivolous expenditures of ratepayer money. Now, with the May initiative looming as a possibility, city officials are working hard to re-establish trust and resolve distracting issues.

When it comes to affecting rates, small pet projects like the Water House have far less impact than the cost of replacing open reservoirs. But they are symbols of

how the City Council views its


Portland’s voters should take note of the evolving priorities at the Water Bureau. What city leaders accomplish between now and May 2014 will go a long way toward determining whether a dramatic change in governance is truly required.

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