The ultimate diversion

I see that the plan is to put Portland's neighborhood associations under the jurisdiction of the mayor's office when the city's mostly ill-advised charter changes take effect 15 months from now. The neighborhood associations are wary of that, and they want more time to consider and react to this aspect of remaking the city government.

At issue for the coalitions is that the organizational chart proposes disbanding the Office of Community & Civic Life, which currently oversees neighborhood associations, and placing them under a new program overseen by the mayor’s chief of staff, which would also administer homeless services.

The district coalitions—Central Northeast Neighbors, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, Neighbors West/Northwest, and Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition—say they’re unclear what the implications of this move would be, both in terms of city funding and in who would interact with them....

Marianne Fitzgerald, president of the Crestwood Neighborhood Association, wrote in a Sept. 22 letter to the City Council that the group was “deeply disappointed about the lack of public dialogue with the people and organizations directly affected by the proposed city organization chart” and added that neighborhood associations care about more than just homelessness—and are also involved in issues of “land use and transportation projects and plans, public transit improvements, parks and natural areas, watersheds and tree preservation, public safety and affordable housing.”

They are right to stand up and holler. The bureaucrats at City Hall would be happier if the associations didn't exist at all. Chloe Eudaly, one of the all-time worst failed experiments on the City Council, made some serious moves to diminish their influence, which is part of why the electorate showed her the door. Under the new charter, the mayor won't have much to do and probably precious little power, and so it's logical that the neighborhood groups would want to find a different place on the organizational chart than under the thumb of some flunky in the mayor's office.

But there's a bigger story here that's not to be missed. You can bet that every single bureaucrat in Portland has spent all of this year, and will spend all of next, trying to use the charter change chaos to their advantage. As all the dust flies in the gigantic reshuffling of responsibilities, the arrogant children in the bureaus will be quietly consolidating their power, jockeying for raises, and slipping in changes to rules and procedures in order advance their obnoxious pet policies. 

The bike children. The water bureau pork chefs. The worthless cops. The know-it-all urban planning overlords. The homeless nannies. In a couple of years, no elected politician will have direct control over any of them. There will be more distance between the voters and the bureaucrats than ever. Whether the minions succeed in gaining more power will depend on the so-far-unidentified new city manager. I'd be shocked if he or she isn't a lifelong bureaucrat as well.

Throw in the fact that under "rank choice" voting, a third or more of the City Council will be inept cartoon figures, and the neighborhood associations have good reason to worry. We all do.


  1. Once council is comprised of 12 amateur know-nothings, the city staff will drive all the policy. Moreover, council will have almost no authority over how (or whether) policy is implemented. But, staff will. That's why the mayor and/or city administrator will have much more power than the naive charter commission thought they gave them. The administrator can hire or fire staff, direct them how to implement policy, and guide them on policy proposals that will bubble over to council. A good mayor can do a lot to stop the worst of council and city staff. But, we'll never have a good mayor.


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