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Friday, April 23, 2010

Saltzman, Cornett & Volm At City Club

Posted by Matt Davis on Fri, Apr 23, 2010 at 11:58 AM

Covering this afternoon's city club debate is the pinnacle of my career. I'm barely capable of standing up, let alone following a coherent line of conversation, thanks to a traumatic wisdom tooth extraction earlier this week. Still, I expect the candidates will make about as much sense as they usually do. Wokka wokka.

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12:24: The sound is a bit shaky. "We're having a really hard time hearing," said Volm. "Could you yell?" There's been some feedback and nobody could hear Commissioner Dan Saltzman introduce himself properly. Both Saltzman and Volm delivered their standard stump speeches. His, "strong, independent leader, keeps an eye on the bottom line," with a bit more thrown in about how he likes to take on "tough challenges." Hers, once again, calling for "getting back to the basics." It rambled. Like I say, standard. Cornett seemed the least nervous, and most coherent both sound-wise, and on message: "Job creation, the wise use of tax payer dollars, and safer neighborhoods." Also, the first zinger: "Despite catchy campaign slogans," he said, "nobody in city hall has kept an eye on the bottom line." And "we have to address the mental health crisis that's impacting every neighborhood in Portland right now." Super.

12:35: First question about working with the city's business partners to Cornett, who spouts some line about having worked in a restaurant when he was 20. Oh, dear.

Volm: "You volunteered for the recall campaign. How would your apparently contentious relationship with the mayor impact your role?"
"I have known Sam for 17 years," she said. "I was his go-to girl for 10 years, oftentimes being tapped to work on some of the most important projects for Mayor Katz. This is not personal. This is about our city, and as long as he and I both agree that we're both working for the benefit of Portland, I don't see a problem working with Sam."

Saltzman: How did the $20million for sewers work out?
"Under my leadership sewer money will be spent on sewer projects," said Saltzman. "What I voted for was to ensure that when we rip up a street for a sewer project we'll put it back in a way that works for the bike plan. It just makes sense. It's a two-fer."

12:37 Next question for Cornett: What would you ask for in the police contract? He mentions his 6-point police reform plan on his website, and says "I think everyone in this room and listening in should be frightened that the city requires no ongoing performance reviews, and I also think we should provide additional facility for drug testing."

Volm responds: "Undercurrent of retaliation in your interest in governing the police bureau because you've stated many times that your friend was shot by a police officer. That's no way to govern, I think you want to get in and shake some things loose in a way that is more retaliatory than of benefit to the community."

Saltzman responds: Pushing for drug testing including steroids, and annual performance reviews of all officers.

12:40 Next question for Volm, how would you mitigate the concerns around the sit/lie ordinance?

Volm says "we need to figure out a way to either help them get on their feet, or figure out a new place to live," for transient kids. She got three question marks for not having answered the question.

"We are not really working together to address this issue as a holistic problem," she said. She wants to work with "the mental health industry" for the mentally ill. She needs more money for housing for homeless people, and for the transient kids, "we need to identify these kids, find out where they come from, and either help them become productive members of society or find a new place to live."

Saltzman says we need "simple, old-fashioned law enforcement" for crimes being committed, and highlighted the work of the children's levy to support New Avenues for Youth.

Cornett said he wants to find a solution that's "a little bit more compassionate than sending people home or sending them somewhere else." He wants to see a vibrant housing levy passed with mental health provisions.

12:42 Saltzman mentions the children's levy AGAIN, in answer to a question about blurring the lines between the city and the county. "Now, some argue that that should be a county responsibility. In an ideal world it should, but this was passed by Portland voters. So, yes, I'm guilty of blurring the distinctions, and I'm happy to do that." The other two don't bother taking the chance to rebut.

12:45 City government seems to be below par. What exactly do you bring to the table that is different?

"You have a city hall full of commissioners who act like the only way to communicate is to issue press releases," said Cornett. "The first thing I'd do is walk across to my fellow commissioners offices to work closely together." It's a question of style, he says.

Volm says "I'm concerned that you really haven't had any experience at the city with regards to all of the responsibilities that are there. So as you're working across the table, without any real city experience on the ground, how would you be able to actually add to a conversation that furthers and broadens a conversation?"

Saltzman: "One person's definition of squabbling is another person's definition of democracy. We do have debates, and they're healthy debates, and that's what being in the public sector is all about. I think there's a lot of rhetoric about the city's not working well, but the city is in a very sound financial position. There's a lot of political rhetoric about the city falling apart, but when we separate out the reality of that argument, it's a different story."

12:48 What can be done to bring jobs? Volm: "We need a diverse economy. We are perfectly positioned here, location location location, and we have a trained workforce, yet we're not going after those businesses that we have identified as willing to expand." She got two question marks, and said we need to aggressively go after businesses that are looking to expand.

Saltzman said the city (ie Mayor Sam Adams) is focused on an economic development strategy: Manufacturing, Software Development, Footwear & Apparel, and Clean Energy/Green Building.

Cornett said "we're really investing time and effort in companies that don't exist here, and I don't think that's a good strategy." He said we need to "place a lot of small bets on local entrepreneurs," and strengthen partnerships with PCC and other colleges.

12:52 The city is more interested in marketing its european image. Are you concerned about the loss of the Portland Beavers? "My uncle Harold is a former Beaver and he calls me up all the time," said Saltzman. "We're not giving up on the Beavers yet. But I do think Major League Soccer is a sport franchise, and I think those help to bind a city together as the city comes together behind its sports team.

Cornett: "When commissioner Saltzman provided the critical third vote to bring MLS to Portland, he should have made sure that retaining the Beavers was part of the deal. Just cutting them loose too easily to go after the next shiny thing is all too emblematic of what's going on in Portland. The deal contained far too many risks, and shouldn't have contained subsidies to help the Paulsons pay their workers a fair wage."

Volm: "I can tell you how quickly a league can go under. I'm very concerned that we're losing the Beavers. We're going to lose an affordable family recreational opportunity that we'll never be able to regain."

12:55 Portland has been accused of being unfriendly towards businesses. Is this a bum wrap, or are we truly failing?

Cornett: We need to cheer-lead on what we're doing right.

Volm: "I don't think we can cheer-lead our way out of this problem. I'm hearing over and over again that businesses can't afford to stay in Portland. We're driving businesses out of Portland."

Saltzman: "It's not just the fact that we have a business license fee. But it's also, quite frankly, the passage of Measure 66 and 67 that has really embittered the business community to doing business in Oregon. We have to work harder, but I think there's a lot of people, quite frankly, who are very happy doing business in Portland."

12:59 Volm asks Cornett a question. "I'm very concerned about your statement buy local, when you've been given money to run a campaign and have constantly purchased services outside this state."

Cornett: "Thank you, so much. I'm concerned that Mary is so concerned about the way I'm running my campaign. It's true, I hired the best pollster I could find to work on my campaign. I'm hiring a lot of registered voters in Portland, 25, to walk around and talk to people. I'm the only candidate on the podium that's actually created jobs in Portland. I keep my money local whenever possible."

Volm rebuts: "By paying somebody to go out and spread your message rather than asking your Bus Project friends, it seems a little disingenuous that you're running a campaign that I'm envious of."

1:00 Cornett, of Commissioner Saltzman: "You have a long and commendable career in city hall. Will you talk for just a minute about what you consider your greatest failure?"

"As I said I'm not the most charismatic person in the world," said Saltzman. "Secondly, I worked along with County Commissioner Jeff Cogen to open the childrens' receiving center. It closed five years later, and I'm profoundly remorseful about that. I am pleased to say that it's now going to be the home of the city's one-stop domestic violence center."

Cornett rebuts: "Thank you for that. I know that a lot of these forums that we've had have been contentious, and I'd like to comment you for the great work that you have done."

1:04 Saltzman asks Cornett which of his "pet projects" are a bad idea. "Here are some of my pet projects: The children's levy, the office of sustainable development, the one stop domestic violence center. I'd like to know which of any of those is a bad idea that we shouldn't have done."

Cornett: "I do like that you highlight the Childrens' levy as your greatest accomplishment. But when I talk about pet projects, I'm talking about pet projects. I'm talking about the soccer company, for example. When you mix bike lanes with green streets, you vex voters."

1:06 Wrap ups: Cornett thanked his friend, Staff Sergeant Bob Black, for his service in Iraq. He returned last night. We need jobs for returning veterans, he said. He criticized the "sidewalks lined with people with mental illness," too. "How can we change it? You can't keep electing the same people to city hall and expect anything to be different."

Saltzman thanked his colleagues. "While I do keep a sharp eye on the bottom line, I also try to keep a sharp eye on the horizon," he said. And he brought up the childrens' levy again, adding that he intends to focus on human trafficking if he's reelected.

Volm thanked city club for listening. "When I started at the city 20 years ago, we lauded ourselves on the most open, accessible and transparent government in the US. I don't know what's happened, but there are a lot of backroom deals being made before any commissioner steps into the council chamber," she said. "I'll focus on bringing citizens back into the decision making process."

Update, 1:13: This sums it up:

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