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Friday, June 1, 2012

Randy Leonard Bidding Early Adieu to Portland Loos

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Jun 1, 2012 at 9:29 AM

Another little nugget buried in this week's city budget vote: This July, oversight of the Portland Loos is moving from Randy Leonard's Water Bureau to Dan Saltzman's Bureau of Environmental Services (aka the city's sewer bureau).

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On its face, it makes sense. While Leonard has been a devoted champion of the idea that everyone in town deserves a clean, tasteful place to relieve themselves, the business of the Loos is less about the modest amounts of water that it takes to run them than it is about disposing of things that belong in our sewer system.

But the move, hashed out in budget talks with Leonard down to his final seven or so months, comes with a catch.

Leonard's been a public-pooping evangelist, even getting the city to sign a contract to market the Loos to other cities in hopes of expanding the program beyond the handful we already have. Not Saltzman. His office is saying just that he's committed to maintaining and operating the current crop of toilets—language that pretty much signals we won't be getting any more any time soon.

"The city is responsible for operating and maintaining the Loos it has, and it's probably more appropriate for it to be done by the sewer bureau than the water bureau," says Saltzman's chief of staff, Brendan Finn.

The Loo transfer hits on a sensitive topic: how the city's utility bureaus spend ratepayer dollars and whether the toilets, and marketing them, are a central mission for the water bureau. Leonard's office said it agreed that maintaining the toilets is probably a better fit for BES, but that a water bureau staffer and a staffer in Leonard's office will still help market the patented toilets.

That said, without any actual Loo sales imminent, there are no immediate plans to build more (besides the one headed for the new Fields park in the Pearl), says Anna DiBenedetto, the Loo guru in Leonard's office.

(Although the city is hoping for a high-profile bump when world toilet expert Jack Sim comes to town next week.)

That reality, DiBenedetto says, plus the marketing work that will remain in Leonard's purview, means, "I don't think it will be a huge shift."

For now.

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