The 1905 Weist Apartments, an unreinforced brick building at 209 NW 23rd Ave., would be subject to seismic retrofit mandates being considered by the Portland City Council. Photo by Julie Keefe

The 1905 Weist Apartments, an unreinforced brick building at 209 NW 23rd Ave., would be subject to seismic retrofit mandates being considered by the Portland City Council. Photo by Julie Keefe

Allan Classen
Editor & Publisher

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Advisory committee ignored disclosure standards adopted by City Council

 

Mayoral candidate Ted Wheeler championed government ethics.

Wheeler zeroed in on conflicts of interest on the Stakeholders Advisory Committee that helped form development policy in the Central City. Those ethical violations were condemned by the City Auditor’s office, which offered a blueprint for conduct of citizen advisory bodies.

The auditor recommended prior disclosure of financial interests by advisers to all city bureaus.

The public deserves confidence that city decisions aren’t being made with undisclosed interests influencing the process,” Wheeler wrote the NW Examiner in 2015. “We need a city government committed at all levels to increased transparency and accountability in governing, and it appears this is an area where they have fallen short.

I commend the citizen activists who brought this to the auditor’s attention and her push to require transparency from all appointees to advisory committees about potential conflicts of interest.”

As mayor, Wheeler has not taken that advice.

The Unreinforced Masonry Policy Committee, which recently recommended costly seismic retrofit mandates to owners of more than 1,700 buildings in the city, operated without disclosure or even discussion of conflicts of interest.

The project is administered by the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, which is in Wheeler’s portfolio.

Carmen Merlo, director of PBEM until last month, told the Examiner she was unaware of disclosure requirements and no steps were taken to elicit statements from members.

If memories of the West Quadrant misadventure had faded in three years, policymakers got a refresher last fall when the City Council adopted policies affirming that members of city advisory bodies “are public officials and must disclose potential and any actual conflicts of interest.”

The reform was introduced by Commissioner Nick Fish, whose chief of staff, Sonia Schmanski, wrote: “When council voted on this package of updates, they became the official standard for all city bureaus. Once council took that action, the updates became the law of the land.”

Mayor Wheeler did not answer queries about the discrepancy in his before- and after-election conduct, despite multiple promises by his spokesperson, Michael Cox, in December and January that he would.

The URM Policy Committee included Brian Emerick of Emerick Architects, and Reid Zimmerman of KPFF Consulting Engineers, both of whom consult on seismic upgrade projects. It also included Hermann Colas Jr. of Colas Construction, a seismic retrofit contractor.

Committee member Walter McMonies represented the Masonry Building Owners of Oregon, whose members own about 200 URM buildings.

The committee did not, however, have a representative of the residential or commercial tenants of URM buildings. The Policy Committee recommended that residential tenants not receive relocation assistance as required by city ordinance for no-cause evictions. That position was later reversed in a draft under review by the mayor.