Does Portland have a planning ethics problem?

Willamette Week’s illustration showing an increased height benefit received by one of the advisors to the Central City 2035 Plan, as the result of changes recommended by the advisors.

Portland’s new Mayor Ted Wheeler made it clear during the campaign that he thinks Portland has a significant problem with ethical transparency, notably in its planning processes.  “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,” he told the Northwest Examiner during the campaign.

Then-candidate Wheeler was speaking about the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and their West Quadrant Plan Stakeholder Advisory Committee, part of the Central City 2035 plan that is now moving through review.  The City Auditor had just found that members of the Committee had not disclosed potential conflicts of interest, including some with significant development interests in the area. “The public deserves confidence that city decisions aren’t being made with undisclosed interests influencing the process,” said Wheeler.

Now that he is in office, many people wonder how the new Mayor will handle the issue.

From the Northwest Examiner last year:

“Portland city officials have not been overly concerned about possible conflicts of interest among citizens who advise them on policy matters… This casual attitude toward citizen advisers may be ending as a result of an Oct. 21 [2015] report by Ombudsman Margie Sollinger of the City Auditor’s Office.

“Sollinger supported the essence of an anonymous complaint filed with her office in June. The complaint charged that property owners, builders, developers, architects and others with a financial stake in development filled 24 of the 33 seats on the West Quadrant Stakeholders Advisory Committee. [Advising on elements of the Central City 2035 Plan, including increased building heights and other potential developer benefits.]

“Furthermore, all but one of the 17 members who voted to increase building height limits and relax development restrictions had real or potential conflicts of interest, the complaint asserted.

“Members of the committee were not asked to disclose their property interests at any point in a two-year process during which they met 16 times and produced a plan later approved by City Council.

“I have concluded that the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability did not properly train SAC members about their legal obligations,” Sollinger wrote. “I have also concluded that it appears likely that individual SAC members did not comply with their obligations to disclose potential conflicts of interest.

““As a remedy, I have recommended that the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability call for SAC members to publicly disclose any potential conflicts before the Planning and Sustainability Commission or the City Council adopts a final plan in 2016,” [Sollinger said.]

“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,” [said then-Mayoral candidate Ted Wheeler.]

UPDATE:  The City Attorney did direct the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to request the disclosure statements from SAC members after the fact. Five of the 33 members of the West Quadrant SAC did not comply, including several prominent developers with holdings in the area:



One Reply to “Does Portland have a planning ethics problem?”

  1. This blog is a good idea, to keep citizens inform what is happening in Portland. I hope that we can keep the city livable.

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