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Thursday, June 26, 2014

You Were Promised a Blue Ribbon Commission on Water/Sewer Rates. Here You Go.

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 2:23 PM

Back when it seemed like angry industrialists could maybe, possibly stage a viable push to snatch Portland's water and sewer service away from City Hall, sweating city officials made a promise. Let us keep the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services, said Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Nick Fish, and we'll look into ways to run them better.

At the time, a campaign to establish an independent water district was drawing all sorts of attention to the city's steep utility rates, and using every opportunity to point out fairly egregious (but relatively benign where rates are concerned) expenditures of utility money.

Who knows what effect the pledge had on voters, who roundly rejected the proposed Portland Public Water District last month? The PPWD had enough problems that it didn't exactly need Fish and Hales' assurances to sink its hopes.

But Fish and Hales today announced the roster of the "Utility Oversight Blue Ribbon Commission" that is the outcome of that late-campaign promise. It's stocked with the organizations you might anticipate—City Club of Portland, the Portland Business Alliance—and familiar faces, along with people who've taken their own prior deep dives into how the city's public utilities are run (and found ample room for improvement). And then it includes what Fish's policy director, Jim Blackwood, calls "bright, clean eyes" who don't have much technical expertise in utility oversight.

In the "familiar faces" and "bright, clean eyes" camp: Dwight Holton, the former US Attorney for Oregon and current executive director of Lines for Life. Holton is chairing the 12-person committee.

Also on board, Chris Liddle, a Portland General Electric manager who chaired a recent City Club committee that critiqued the city's water/sewer oversight. The PBA, which aired its own qualms about utility management, is being represented by Marian Haynes. And the Citizens' Utility Board of Oregon will have a seat at the table. The organization is already studying the city's rate structure.

"We were looking for areas of expertise" says Blackwood.

The city is also working out a contract with a local "community engagement and planning firm," Cogan Owens Cogan, to facilitate the group's discussions and create a report later this year. An agreement hasn't been hammered out, Blackwood says, but the services could cost as much as $30,000 (a total of $50,000 in contingency money has been carved out for the committee).

The committee's first meeting is on July 15. Blackwood says he hopes a report will be ready for Portland City Council consideration by November. Hit the jump for the full roster.

Commission Charge
The Portland City Council directs that an independent Commission convene from July to November 2014, to analyze potential reforms of the oversight and accountability of the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services, and then report to the City Council. The Commission will focus on streamlining communications and transparency in the rate-making process.


Utility Oversight Blue Ribbon Commission Members

Chair – Dwight Holton
Dwight Holton is the CEO of Lines for Life, the state’s leading nonprofit working to prevent substance abuse and suicide. He previously served as United States Attorney for Oregon in 2010-2012, where he launched a civil rights initiative and led community initiatives to combat mortgage fraud, domestic violence, human trafficking and prescription drug overdose deaths. Dwight lives with his wife Mary Ellen Glynn and two children in Southeast Portland.

Vice-Chair – Isaac Dixon
Isaac Dixon is the Associate Vice President for Human Resources at Lewis & Clark College. Prior to moving into the world of higher education Isaac worked for companies such as Providence Health and Services, GE Capital, Pitney Bowes Financial Services and NIKE. He also served in human resources roles in federal, state and local government agencies. He is a long time resident of Portland and has served on numerous committees, boards and commissions.

Barbara Byrd
Barbara Byrd is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Oregon AFL-CIO. She oversees economic development, workforce training and climate policy issues for the state federation. On behalf of the federation, she sits on the Oregon Workforce Investment Board and on the Advisory Council of the Oregon Employment Department. She also coordinates the Oregon BlueGreen Apollo Alliance, a labor-business-environmental coalition that promotes clean energy and good jobs. Since 1995, she is has been on the faculty at the University of Oregon's Labor Education and Research Center (LERC).

Christine Chin Ryan
Christine Chin Ryan is the Founder and President of Synergy Consulting, Inc., which provides comprehensive IT software solutions to Federal, commercial, and not for profit enterprises with emphasis on Customized Software Development and Staff Augmentation. Christine is a passionate advocate for small businesses. She serves as Chair of the Oregon Small Business for Responsible Leadership, and as a member of the Small Business Majority Network Council. She previously served as Chair of the Governor’s Small Business Council and as a member of the Oregon Business Plan Steering Committee and Congressman Kurt Schrader’s Small Business Advisory Board, and served as Chair of the Oregon Small Business Healthcare Initiative.

Rob Doneker
Robert Doneker is a registered Professional Engineer (PE) in the State of Oregon and has a Ph.D. degree in Environmental Engineering from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University. He consults on water management issues for USEPA, US ARMY COE, ODEQ, and other governments, universities, and businesses worldwide.

Bill Gaffi
Bill Gaffi is the General Manager of Clean Water Services, the wastewater and surface water management utility which serves over 550,000 customers in Washington and parts of Clackamas and Multnomah counties. Clean Water Services is a leader in watershed management and has also been recognized as one of America’s most effective and innovative small businesses.

Marian Haynes
Marian Haynes is the Vice President of Government Relations and Economic Development for the Portland Business Alliance. The Alliance represents over 1,700 small, medium and large employers. Marion served on the Portland Charter Review Commission, which investigated changes to the structure of the City’s water and sewer bureaus. Prior to joining the Alliance, Marion worked at Portland General Electric in state government affairs.

Chris Liddle
Chris Liddle is a Manager in Regulatory Affairs for Portland General Electric. He recently chaired the City Club of Portland's research committee on Water and Sewer Rates and Governance. Chris has a BA in Finance from the University of Oregon, and an MBA from Portland State University.

Kendra Smith
Kendra Smith is a restoration ecologist with 21 years of experience working in streams, rivers, and storm water management throughout the Willamette Basin. She currently serves on Metro's Natural Areas Oversight Committee, and Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board's regional grant review team. She has been a consultant, public employee for Clean Water Services a sanitary and storm/surface water utility, and currently works for the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

Brian Stahl
Brian R. Stahl is the Water Division Manager for the City of Gresham. He has more than 30 years of experience in municipal enterprise fund budgeting, serving on numerous regional and state committees addressing water management issues. He is the current Chair of the Oregon Health Authority Drinking Water Advisory Committee.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson is a Consumer Advocate with the Citizens’ Utility Board (CUB) focused on Water and Sewer issues. She comes to the CUB Board after over 15 years working on democracy reform issues where she fought special interests, demanding government and corporate accountability. Janice began her career at the Minnesota Energy Agency with a focus on community based energy programs. A stint teaching middle school science with an emphasis on stream and watershed studies provided many opportunities to communicate complex topics in readily understandable ways. Janice has degrees in Biology and Education from Carleton College and the University of Minnesota.

Lawrence Wallack
Lawrence Wallack has more than 40 years of experience in various aspects of public health. He previously served for nine years as Dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs at Portland State University. He has substantial background in social advocacy, communication, and translation of research.

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