Amanda Fritz's blog

A Proposal for Transparent Public Process

  • Posted on: 2 January 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

A long time ago, when I was new to citizen involvement, I buckled up my three small children into their car seats and drove to Salem for a hearing on school funding. We had to wait more than three hours for my turn to testify; it was perhaps one of greatest achievements of my mothering career that with the aid of industrial quantities of crayons, books, and grapes, my offspring contributed to the cause by behaving themselves impeccably in the packed hearing room. But after I had given my three minutes of input, driven home exhausted, and read that the committee had voted contrary to the urging of all those testifying, I realized it had, in fact, been a Fake Public Hearing. The votes had been lined up ahead of time, and ten times the testimony would still not have made any difference. "Why don't they just post 'Token Public Hearing' on the announcement, so working people don't waste their time going?", I muttered to my friends.

Fast forward to 2006. As noted in a previous post and its comments, I see problems in open debate and transparency in Portland City Council decisions, as well as those of other elected bodies. Often, the newspapers will announce which votes are lined up, before the public hearing. Insiders mock Commissioners who dare to put items on the agenda without being sure their proposal will pass. We've passed a crisis point in public confidence in the decision-making process, when many citizens don't consider showing up at City Council worth their time.

Next Up at City Council 1/3-4/2007

  • Posted on: 2 January 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Nothing much on this week's agenda particularly fires my engines, although there is always a story and someone who cares behind every item on the list. Metro's Nature in the Neighborhoods, policing New Columbia, the University of Portland's expansion, and amendment of an agreement between Portland Parks & Recreation and the Portland Development Commission, all caught my eye. I'd like to know more about each of these and provide detailed information, but the city doesn't give links from the Council agenda despite the fact that every item is supported by a staff report - all presumably written on computers and public information. Please post comments if you know more about any item on the agenda.

Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m. there is a rare item: a developer appealing the denial of a subdivision application. Usually the neighbors are appealing the approval. This one is on SE Foster Road, in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood. The Appeal Notice (pdf) says the application was denied based on inadequate stormwater management plans. Linda Bauer is the amazing Pleasant Valley neighborhood volunteer who follows development applications and construction there. I'll add information in the comments if I hear more about this appeal.

I'm happy for Joe Bozikovich

  • Posted on: 1 January 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

And who is Joe Bozikovich, you ask? He played with my older son on the Wilson High School football team that won the Portland Interscholastic League and went to the state playoffs in both 2003 and 2004. More accurately, my son played with Joe, since Joe was the star. Joe was recruited by schools all over Oregon and by Notre Dame, and chose to go to Boise State. He's been injured and hasn't seen a lot of playing time, but we saw him on the sidelines in tonight's thrilling overtime win for Boise State over Oklahoma. And he looked very happy.

Wilson's current head coach, Aaron Olson, made a wonderful speech after our team was eliminated from the state playoffs. He said something like this (it's been several years, so the words aren't exact):

"The commercials say football, or running, or another sport, is life. Well, football isn't life. There are things in life that are much more important than football. But football is like life. You prepare, you work hard, you learn your job and listen to the instructions and you do your best, and sometimes it works out the way you want, and sometimes it doesn't. But if each player and each coach and each parent and supporter does their part, sometimes you can do great things together. And that's why we love football games, because the whole team is putting their hopes and dreams on the field and we can cheer with them when they succeed and be sad with them when they don't."

So tonight, I am cheering for Joe and the Boise State football team. The Fiesta Bowl game was a good reminder that even when you think life isn't going so well, sometimes it will give you something to cheer about with the next play.

Romania and Bulgaria join the European Union

  • Posted on: 1 January 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

"OK, so what? What does that have to do with Portland, Oregon?", I can almost hear you muttering. Or even, "Where are Bulgaria and Romania? Somewhere in Europe, obviously, probably somewhere near Russia?" This gives a neat overview for that one - useful in your next trivia game?

The best answer to why it matters to us in Portland, is that both world wars and most of the major armed conflicts in history started in Europe, and the more European countries agree to talk with each other instead of fighting, the less chance of World War III. I'm going out on a limb here on New Year's Day, by stating flat out I think

World Peace is A Good Thing
.

And of course, Americans vacationing in Europe now have easier access to two more countries.

Interesting, easy-to-read Q & A on the BBC World web site.

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

  • Posted on: 1 January 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

The Oregonian on Mental Health Parity, School Funding

When you know something about the topic of an article in a newspaper, it reads differently compared with those issues where the news is completely new to you. Instead of accepting information at face value, or wondering whether it is accurate, you either agree or disagree with the writer's take on the subject. When I was on the Planning Commission, sometimes I'd wonder whether I was at the same meeting, when I read the report in a newspaper. No article can cover every aspect of an issue; choosing what to include, and which words to use, changes both the information and the impression conveyed to readers.

January 1, 2007 brings the dawn of mental health parity in health insurance in Oregon, covered here in The Oregonian. I'm a psychiatric nurse, not an insurance expert; from my perspective, this is a good, balanced article. Thumbs up, good work, thanks for increasing understanding on this important step forward.

On the other hand, Sunday's Oregonian carried the front page article Bigger school budget won't end crowding (links available only for two weeks), claiming that $500m of Governor Kulongoski's proposed $750m in increased school funding will go towards "salary increases, rising employee health care costs, pension contributions, rising enrollment and higher prices for supplies and services" rather than decreasing class sizes. Having spent a lot of time over the last 16 years as a parent volunteer inside public schools, I found this article downright irritating, and I'll tell you why.

Campaign Funding and Debt

  • Posted on: 31 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Carla at Loaded Oregon does excellent work in her regular "Spanning the State" review of news from outside Portland. I hope more Portlanders will start reading these posts and clicking the links - it would help mend the "urban-rural divide" if we all knew what is happening in Harney County and Pendleton as well as in SoWa and The Pearl.

Today's LO post links to the Ashland Daily Tidings' report on campaign contributions and spending in the November election. Aside from noting that "Daily Tidings" is an excellent name for a small town newspaper, I'm particularly struck by their report on funding of the races for Ashland City Council. In Seat 2, John Stromberg, who won 35% of the vote, spent $10,809 and raised $11,048; re-elected incumbent Kate Jackson spent $6,350 and raised $6,910 in winning 48% of the votes [side comment - incumbent greatly outspent, still wins]. Nick Frost, who also ran for Jackson's seat, spent $1,526 and raised $1,563. In the other highly competitive race, Eric Navickas spent $3,114 and raised $3,116 in his narrow win over Greg Lemhouse, who raised $3181 and spent $3147.

Notice anything about these numbers, apart from the very low amounts spent on these campaigns compared with those in our races for positions with higher salaries in Portland and Multnomah County? Not one of these candidates spent more than s/he raised. Yet in Portland and Multnomah County, not only has it become routine that candidates often take on ending campaign debts over $10,000, but nobody seems to care.

Why isn't the ability to keep campaign spending within the money raised deemed a necessary and desirable quality in candidates here in Portland, especially in those who win and will be guardian of the public purse?

Quiz - Whose Vision?

  • Posted on: 31 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

* Anybody willing to work should be able to find a job that pays a living wage.

* People shouldn't have to file for bankruptcy because they got sick.

* Every child should have a genuinely good education - that is, it shouldn't just be a bunch of talk - and those same children should be able to go to college even if their parents aren't rich.

* People should be safe, from criminals and from terrorists; they want clean air, clean water, and time with their kids. And when they get old, they want to be able to retire with some dignity and respect.

* People don't expect government to solve all their problems, and certainly don't like seeing tax dollars wasted, but they figure government should help.

Pop quiz:

Question 1: This credo is taken from:

a) Summary of citizen comments in Mayor Potter's Visioning project

b) Senator Barack Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope"

c) A candidate's speech at the City Club in the May 2006 primary campaign

Question 2: Does anyone disagree with any of this?

Discuss. Answer to Question 1 will be posted in an update later today.
Update 21:30 - see comments for the answer

Cully Association of Neighbors - on a roll

  • Posted on: 30 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

The media likes to put down Neighborhood Associations and the people who volunteer in them. Many Portland politicians do, too. I'm not sure why that is. Power/control issues? Plus the fact that our society likes to dwell on anything negative - "Get the widow on the set, we love dirty laundry!" - so any small controversy or minor flaws in a group of people gets more press than the many things they do right. In Thursday's Oregonian, you had to look hard to find the story of how the Cully Association of Neighbors (CAN) has won another victory for working people. This past week, an Arizona-based property owner announced the sale of the Arbor Mobile Trailer Park in NE Portland has fallen though - partly because the city would have required full street improvements which would have lowered the desired density of 350 condominiums, perhaps even more because of the work CAN did in coordinating help for the current residents of 127 trailers. Many of these folks are retired, on fixed incomes and/or social security, owning homes that despite the label "mobile" cannot be moved. For these people, the news that the land will not be sold from under them, this time at least, makes for a very Happy New Year.

Update 1/4/07: The Oregonian covers residents' reactions.

This is my friend Kathy Fuerstenau, an optician who chairs the Cully Association of Neighbors, showing me one of the many unpaved streets in her NE neighborhood.

Charter proposals, Part 2 - Future Charter Updates

  • Posted on: 29 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

This should really be the fourth post in this series, but I'm still researching the proposals for PDC and for changes to the Civil Service rules. So, skipping to the last listed of the Charter Review Commission's recommendations:

Require periodic review of City Charter

Sounds reasonable, huh? What's being proposed isn't the process we're engaged in now, though. While a regular review of the Charter every five years would be mandated, which is good, a Charter Review Commission's proposals would go straight to the ballot, with no public hearing at/authorization by City Council. The ballot measure language that you and I could vote Yes or No on would be chosen by a citizen Commission, volunteers appointed by the Mayor.

While this again is like the Multnomah County model, I worry about the makeup of future Commissions and its members' concern/time for public process. For the seven years I was on the Planning Commission, of course I didn't have office hours because I don't have an office, and all communication was filtered through a staff person since the city didn't want volunteers deluged at home or work with calls and emails. I made myself much more available, by my own choice and effort, than many Planning Commissioners with whom I served. It depends so much on the individuals chosen: that makes me uncomfortable, for a committee making final decisions rather than recommendations. While volunteers on the Planning Commission sometimes want to be decision-makers instead of advisory to Council, I didn't see that as my role since I was appointed rather than elected. I disagreed vehemently with the Council's decision reversing the Planning Commission's recommendation on the Tram, for example, but I respected their right to make it. We need only look at the controversy surrounding the Portland Development Commission, to recognize that many Portlanders are uncomfortable with appointed volunteers making final decisions.

According to the discussion draft of the recommendations, the Charter Review Commission's proposal for periodic review "gives citizens an expanded role in the governance process". My reaction is that it gives the citizens appointed by the Mayor this expanded role. It reduces the role of people elected to represent all citizens. It's not clear whether the Council would even direct the Commission on which parts of the Charter to tackle next, or if that too would be left to their discretion. There are many sections that need updating, beyond the four being addressed in the current process.

If this charter revision was in place today, the proposal to switch to a Strong Mayor/Chief Administrator model of the Council would go straight to the voters, with no public hearing before Council. And then, as discussed in my previous post, voters are often guided mostly by corporate media and business-funded advertising. Even with the current practice on Council where making deals to line up three votes seems to be the norm, I believe I have more chance of persuading elected officials than of fighting Big Money.

PHLUSH

  • Posted on: 29 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

This contribution was left under comments on an earlier post by Carol McCreary, a stalwart citizen in Old Town. Volunteers have been making great progress working for provision of toilet facilities downtown. Carol writes:

Congratulations, Amanda, on the launch of your blog. It looks like a friendly spot, especially for people like us, PHLUSH, the public toilet advocates based here in Old Town Chinatown. We know what we need and now Council has come online with the SAFE (Street Access for Everyone) program and would like to see concrete progress on the comfort station front within the next few months. The challenge now is to how to proceed with respect to public process, social justice and best practice in an area where so many other cities have failed. We welcome ideas and roll-up-your sleeves contributions. The Office of the Mayor has called together a team to implement the recommendations of "Going Public: Strategies for Meeting Public Restroom Need in Portland's Central City". This superb report by PSU's Relief Works is available here.

Urban Wildlife

  • Posted on: 29 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Nutria, in the stormwater detention pond next to WinCo Foods off Pacific Highway in Tigard. You might think this is evidence of a healthy ecosystem, that animals are colonizing the pond, but in fact nutria are an invasive species, imported from South America. They damage the banks of the ponds, destroy vegetation used by native species, and compete for habitat. Cute, if you didn't know that, though, and don't think of them as oversized rats rather than similar to beavers.

Calling all Oregonians to action

  • Posted on: 28 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Whether you're a Duck, Beaver, Viking, Pilot, or fan of another Oregon college, or just a supporter of access to higher education in Oregon, go to ESPN's Game Changing Play right now, and click on "Oregon State" in the lower line of options, to vote for Oregon State's denial of USC's 2-point conversion as the most significant single play in the 2006 college football season. Why? Well, because it was, changing USC's chance of making the National Title Game from a certainty to a forlorn hope (and then to hopeless after they lost to UCLA). And because the team with the most votes in the poll gets $100,000 in general scholarship funds from Pontiac. What's not to like about an Oregon college getting a big chunk of money from a source outside our state, in return for a couple of clicks of the mouse on your part?

The PAC-10 is 0-3 in bowl games, and that's just embarrassing. So Let's Go, Beavers, rest up and win tomorrow!

Oregon Housing Alliance

  • Posted on: 28 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Here's the link to the Housing Alliance site mentioned in my Letter to the Editor in today's Oregonian. I'm excited about the prospects of new funding for affordable housing in the 2007 Legislature. Safe, decent housing at a cost that doesn't force hardworking people to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table is essential for our city. The Housing Alliance is proposing increasing fees on document registration, which would raise $60m in new funds dedicated for affordable housing. A good step forward, if adopted.

Next Up at City Council

  • Posted on: 27 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

The Portland City Council's agenda is published every Friday afternoon, for the following week's meetings. I will be commenting on upcoming items of interest regularly. Here's one that can't wait:

On January 18, 2007, at 2 p.m., the Council will be considering the recommendations of the Charter Review Commission. This citizen-led committee has been meeting for 13 months. It was charged with reviewing only four specific parts of the City Charter, not the whole document. Those were: the form of government; the relationship between the City and the Portland Development Commission (PDC); Civil Service rules and policies; and the potential for periodic Charter review. The last comprehensive Charter review was done more than 80 years ago; the amendment creating PDC was in 1958.

This is a huge issue coming down the pike, which deserves much more attention and time than is possible over the next three weeks - particularly since information about the proposal is not yet (as of 12/27, three weeks before the public hearing) posted on the City's Charter Review web page.

"Keeping It Transparent"

  • Posted on: 27 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Nick Budnick writes an excellent article in Tuesday's Tribune about transparency in the current Portland City Council. But he says, "By some measures, Portland’s City Hall is the most transparent it’s ever been. The mayor, city commissioners and bureau heads all post their schedules regularly." That's a bit misleading. Tom Potter and Sam Adams post their calendars weekly, and past calendars cumulatively - that's commendable. Dan Saltzman posts his calendar for the current and past week, but only posts the record to the Auditor's site quarterly. And Erik Sten and Randy Leonard only post their calendars for the previous quarter, on the Auditor's Lobbyist registration page.

So if a citizen wants to know who met with lobbyists last month, only Mayor Potter and Commissioner Adams make that information readily available.

This is us

  • Posted on: 26 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

This is a photo of our family that my husband took for my campaign. I enticed the kids to participate by promising I would use it for our annual Christmas card letter, instead of making them pose again. L - R: Maxwell (freshman at Princeton University), Ali (junior at Wilson High School), Jet the Pet on the lap of some woman who's had way too much caffeine, Steve (professional psychiatrist, amateur photographer), Luke (junior at Western Oregon University).

This is us, too:

These are some of the folks who worked as staff and/or volunteers on my campaign for Portland City Council, outside our office in the Buckman neighborhood.

"This is us" entries will be a recurrent theme on this blog.

Portland A - Z: "This is us" means everyone.

Really long National Labor Relations Board decision comments, updated from Loaded Orygun guest column

  • Posted on: 26 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

A version of this post first appeared as a guest column on Loaded Orygun. The following is an updated edition based on feedback to that article.

"OUTRAGE! Government Attacks Nurses, Eight Million Workers", screams the headline on a United American Nurses mailer I received earlier this month. "In a broadsided attack on basic democratic rights and working people, the federal government paved the way in October for employers to strip potentially as many as 800,000 RNs - and eight million workers overall - of their union rights."

Is this true? Well, yes and no. Yes, new stuff happened this fall. But no, the real problem started with vague statutory language in 1947, and has been coming down the pike with unstoppable force since 2001. Now is definitely the time to pay attention, and do something about it. I believe amending the National Labor Relations Act is the best solution. Protecting nurses who aren't management supervisors can be done in the next Congress. Updating the law for all workers may take longer, but is worth the effort. In the short term, workers in Oregon and elsewhere will have to bargain with employers to put protection for shift leaders in contracts, rather than relying on the federal law from 1947.

Portland A-Z

  • Posted on: 26 December 2006
  • By: Amanda Fritz

This blog is about issues I find interesting in Portland, Oregon. Its subtitle is "Portland A-Z" because the main focus is the city of Portland and the people who live, work, and play here, and I aim to be widely inclusive in encouraging everyone to feel welcome to read and comment.

Also, my older son pointed out in an epic Mother's Day poem a few years ago that my name starts with an A, and ends with a Z.

As I've started writing articles, I realize that many of my posts will be longer than typical blog entries. I aim to delve into issues in detail, as often core policies are carried out (or not) in those details. Explaining complicated issues often can't be done in a paragraph or two, and I make no apologies for refusing to dumb it down. I believe Portlanders deserve adequate, accurate information and are very capable of understanding and digesting it.

This blog is about Portland and its relationships with Oregon, the United States, and the world, from Amanda Fritz's perspective.

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