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A reader responds to "Fail City"

by | Oct 2, 2022

photo/Chris Busby

In response to “Fail City” [August 2022], yes, Chris Busby, it’s a bummer when construction projects like the one at Congress and High streets in Portland don’t go as planned; individuals, businesses and taxpayers can and do suffer. 

Who’s at fault? A project’s problems can start with the owner’s unrealistic budget expectations and continue with acceptance of the lowest bid. In many cases the lowest bid does not reflect the true construction cost. The second- or third-lowest are usually the best cost indicators. But woe be to any municipality that doesn’t accept the lowest bid. 

Did the city have a complete and accurate existing conditions survey? Were the existing conditions on the construction documents? Subsurface ledge was reported as a problem here. Was that on the survey? Did the city have contingency funds in the budget for any unknown conditions? 

Typically, the contractor has the responsibility for control and safety at the site, with the owner’s acceptance and cooperation. Construction projects can be complicated, so good communication between all players, which seems to be missing here, is important. Anyway, to your main point about current city government…

Fail City

Your criticism of Mayor Kate Snyder (“our invisible mayor”) is neither correct nor reflects your thorough investigative talents. Would she be better serving Portland by riding around town on a scooter, or siting at a card table on street corners? If you’ve been following the exodus of long-experienced, competent elected officials and city staff, you would understand that reasons for disarray in City Hall include newly elected, we-want-what-we-want-and-want-it-now, petulant progressives, who are clueless concerning government process. Acting aggressively and irrationally, they are driving out those with institutional knowledge and true concern for all of Portland, leaving a vacuum which they fill with frustration, discord and emotional instability. 

Three newly elected progressive city councilors were recently on the school board. Evidence suggests that during their tenures, Portland schools, spending more per student, are now worse academically than schools in adjacent communities, as stated by Councilor Tae Chong earlier this year. Lack of introspection isn’t the kind of strong leadership you are reminiscing about. 

Speaking of strong leadership, former city manager Bob Ganley was a strong leader. He had his priorities and built Hadlock Field, but ignored public requests for an inspirational Amtrak station. Your remembrances of councilors Geraghty and O’Donnell getting “shit fixed” should be a lesson learned against the Charter Commission’s “strong mayor” — or politically driven big-city boss — running Portland behind closed doors. A strong city council thinking like adults has been, and would continue to be, a more democratic way to manage the many competing interests in Portland. 

The Charter Commission proposal for a “strong mayor” is simply a road to self-serving politicians making fantasy election promises leading to politically driven chaos within City Hall. Nationally, we are currently witnessing chaos as a strategy used by extremist groups of all stripes striving for power. Radicalized politicians remind me of Michael Douglas, as Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street — to paraphrase, “Chaos, for lack of a better word, is good.” 

Robert Kahn

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