They'll need a shoehorn

I'm still trying to wrap my alleged mind around the story that the Port of Portland is planning to sell off major assets and use the money to advance civil rights and social justice. Not only do I smell a rat, but I'm wondering how anyone could even think that that's legal.

So I looked up the Port charter. Here's what Oregon Revised Statutes 778.015 says about what the Port is empowered to do:

The object, purpose and occupation of the Port of Portland shall be to promote the maritime, shipping, aviation, commercial and industrial interests of the port as by law specifically authorized. Subject to ORS 778.016 (Best value standards for Port of Portland contracts and space leases), the port may acquire, hold, use, dispose of and convey real and personal property, make any and all contracts the making of which is not by this chapter expressly prohibited. It may do any other acts and things which are requisite, necessary or convenient in accomplishing the purpose described or in carrying out the powers granted to it by law. The port may supply surface and air craft with fuel and other supplies at reasonable cost as may be for the best interests of the port.

It's tough to square that grant of power with the report in the O over the weekend:

The Port of Portland is considering a major overhaul that could include the sale or repurposing some of its riverfront terminals, one of its smaller airports and other important holdings.

“Just about everything is on the table,” said Curtis Robinhold, the port’s executive director.

The restructuring is part of sweeping philosophical shift away from facilitating trade for powerful business interests to a “shared prosperity initiative” intended to spread the wealth to people of color, the poor and the marginalized....  

The port will begin evaluating all its assets this week to determine which it will keep and which it will sell or repurpose. Proceeds from any asset disposal will advance the port’s new shared prosperity agenda, according to port documents.

The port authority is supposed to "promote the maritime, shipping, aviation, commercial and industrial interests of the port." Among the ways it is able to do that is to impose a property tax on private property in the tri-county area. You have to wonder how those taxpayers are going to feel about the things that they paid for being sold off and the money spent on "equity." How about a tax decrease?

And there are bondholders out there, too, who lent money to the Port to provide for its osbcene pension liability. They have an interest in seeing the Port stay in the black. Sure, there'll always be the airport to generate cash, but the airport's bond rating is sagging, for obvious reasons, and it's mortgaged pretty heavily. (They will keep redoing PDX until the runways are paved with gold.) So maybe the folks on Wall Street will get nervous enough to police the impending spread-the-wealth spree. But I wouldn't count on it.

It wasn't too long ago, during the reign of the Sam Rand Twins, that the Portland water bureau started in with a similar, all-purpose-good-guys agenda. Playgrounds, Rose Festival headquarters, a party bus, guided tours, the Sam Rands bent the charter beyond the breaking point. Then the city got sued over it, and lost. It was an expensive display of pure folly. 

Now the Port seems to be heading down the same path. We'll see how it plays out, I guess. 

Meanwhile, googling around about the Port, I came across a wild story from the 1930's, when people started asking too many questions. Frank Akin, a governor-appointed auditor who was in the middle of investigating both the Port and the water bureau, was shot to death in a murder-for-hire scheme. At least one guy did time for being involved, but the ultimate sponsor of the hit was never identified, much less brought to justice.

Of course, that was nearly 90 years ago. It was a different time. Portland's all cleaned up now. Right?


  1. In today's legal climate, with the ideology of virtually all members of our current trial and appellate bench sympathetic, do you really think the Port can't "justify" "shared prosperity" as consistent with "other acts and things convenient" to promoting the "commercial interests of the Port." If the BIPOC community is wealthier [or at least that is the intent of "shared prosperity" initiative], they'll buy more imported goods the Port handles, make more stuff the Port exports, etc. Not nearly as much of a stretch as Martha Walters wanting to have the courts fight climate change if the legislature doesn't meet her standards.

    1. The one judge in Multnomah County took the water bureau to the woodshed. It gave me some hope. But there was also the arts tax case, of course.


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