Commissioner Leonard pulls no punches during Chamber address

Saying he “feels at home” in outer East Portland, Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard pitches his “cell phone tax”, chides the PDC, and pumps the Water Bureau in his own unique way. Read here what he had to say ‚Ķ

Never shy to speak his mind, Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard did so frankly, before members of the East Portland Chamber of Commerce last month.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Catching up to date with the East Portland Chamber of Commerce, they’ve been providing networking opportunities for businesspeople, endorsed the “Small Business Bill of Rights”, and held conversations with public officials.

Randy Leonard speaks out
During the holiday season, Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard spent the time with East Portland Chamber of Commerce members at their weekly morning networking event. He candidly talked about his pet projects and city issues affecting East Portland businesspeople.

“Not only do I live close by,” Leonard began, “I also feel close to this chamber because I work with Ken Turner (Government Affairs chair for the Chamber) on the Small Business Council ‚Äì they meet in my office downtown.”

Enthused about bio-diesel
“Our country has energy problems,” Leonard stated. “I believe bio-diesel can solve those problems.”

Having talked with Eastern Oregon farmers, the city councilman asserted that Portland is poised and positioned to be a major hub for bio-diesel production and distribution. “We have the waterways to bring crops here. A production facility would create new jobs in our region.”

Changes in city government
Turning to the city’s management, Leonard said there has been a big change in how since Tom Potter became mayor. “We have a better atmosphere at City Hall. We have vigorous discussion; not so much disagreements, but honest, open discussions.”

Digging into the PDC
“In the past few months, I’ve focused on Portland Development Commission,” Leonard told the group.

“The PDC provides assets for the city to improve economic wealth for Portland. But they’ve forgotten their mission; they’ve lost their way. It seems is if they’ve lost sight that the PDC is a taxpayer-funded origination.”

Leonard said he believes the City Council is split, three to two, regarding holding PDC more accountable.

He brought up the SW 3rd Ave. and Oak (former Portland Police Bureau headquarters) transaction. “The PDC paid more than appraised value for the property; and then sank $500,000 to remediate it. Then, they came up with an appraisal showing it was worth a negative 2.7 million. The auditor said the PDC appraisal was a sham.”

While staff members might not consider Leonard’s attention helpful, “I’m helping them be more transparent,” he added.

Commissioner Leonard spoke with pride about the “new service attitude” at the Portland Water Bureau.

Water Bureau pride
“I was assigned the Portland Water Bureau 18 moths ago,” Leonard continued. “It is a wonderful city agency. This bureau got hung with the computer billing system, but it wasn’t their mess. There is a renewed spirit of service there.”

The commissioner also talked about his “Hydro-Park” project. “There are many parcels of water bureau property that are large expanses. Starting in Hazelwood, we took the fences down; moved in the East Portland Neighborhood Office.” Instead maintaining unused space, Leonard said they’re in the process of turning other properties into parks, community gardens, and walking trails.

Against city license fee changes without ‘cell tax’
Leonard said he was in favor of eliminating the current Business License Fee tax altogether. This would be possible, he proposed, if the city instituted a tax on cellular telephone service.

“Look, everyone hates taxes,” Leonard confided. “But Vancouver levies a 6% cell phone tax ‚Äì Seattle’s tax is at 22%. The fairest tax is one that touches everybody. Absent a tax like this, I can’t begin to gift away parts of the city’s revenue.”

Comments on the City Charter Review
For months, a “blue-ribbon panel” has met, at the mayor’s request, to review the Portland City Charter and make recommendations.

Asked for his comment on the results of the review, Leonard responded, “What disturbs me most is the recommendations [which the review contains, to] totally recreate the city’s structure ‚Äì change the very nature of our city government. Yet, it leaves the PDC pretty much unchanged. It doesn’t make sense.”

Meet Portland’s new Business Program Coordinator on January 17
City Commissioner Erik Sten was originally scheduled to speak to the Chamber members on January 17 at The Heights At Columbia Knoll.

Instead, members will hear from Christopher Hartye. He joined the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) as Business Program Coordinator on December 4th. Hartye is charged with working with business associations, chambers of commerce and other community-based organizations to provide a variety of services to the small business community, including technical assistance, leadership and organizational development training.

Plan now to meet Hartye, and the Chamber’s members, at their “Good Morning East Portland” networking meeting on January 17 from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. Meetings are free, and guests are welcome. The Heights At Columbia Knoll is located at 8320 NE Sandy Blvd. For more information, see www.EastPortlandChamber.com or call (503) 788-8589.

¬© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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