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Give PDC's new talent a chance

The Portland City Council should abandon its misguided efforts to take over the Portland Development Commission.

Yet city Commissioners Erik Sten, Sam Adams and Randy Leonard continue to push for reforms within the PDC, including the notion of asking voters to approve a May ballot measure granting City Council authority over the development commission's budget.

A little more than a week ago, the council unanimously backed away from Sten's ballot measure idea by approving a memorandum calling for the city's charter to be revised to allow council approval of the PDC budget.

Timing aside, efforts to take over the PDC are plain wrong. It's all about council control, not improved outcomes.

We recognize that through the years some PDC decisions were questionable and others arguably poor. But we also believe that the quasi-independent development agency has helped do many good things. It instigated the redevelopment of the Pearl District, the South Waterfront and RiverPlace, Pioneer Courthouse Square and sectors of the east side including the Eastbank Esplanade and the Oregon Convention Center.

The PDC also has been the external face for national and international recruiting of new businesses to the entire Portland region.

Greater, appropriate council engagement with the PDC already is under way. Mayor Tom Potter has effectively improved the five-person development agency commission with four high-quality new appointments.

Meanwhile, the PDC's new executive director, Bruce Warner, is a local, regional and state public official with a long track record of success. He believes in aboveboard public-private partnerships. Warner and the new PDC commission deserve the chance to do the agency's work better than it has been done in the past.

As a development agency, the PDC also must be allowed to quickly, nimbly and confidentially engage in complex investments that sometimes involve private-sector business partners. It should do so within the guidelines of being a quasi-independent city agency that is subject to appropriate public oversight.

Conversely, overseeing timely, complicated business deals is not the role of the City Council. Most big-city councils draw elected representatives who are motivated by political agendas or specific interest initiatives that often don't produce immediate results.

We suspect that Adams, Sten and Leonard have many reasons for seeking changes within the PDC. These may include wanting to be better able to respond to citizen concerns about the agency; invest PDC funds in different ways, such as in more affordable housing; or change how labor is paid on PDC projects.

But we must ask the commissioners what track record they have that proves the council is best suited to ultimately oversee the PDC. In what business dealings has the council proven itself? Its ill-fated attempt to take over PGE? Or how it managed changes in the city's water billing system?

The council has other better choices. It should let the PDC's new executive and the council-approved commissioners manage the PDC better than it has been run in the past.

City commissioners and PDC officials should routinely communicate and agree on economic initiatives, including where urban renewal funds managed by the PDC are spent. The council, the PDC and the business community should work together to energetically implement a proactive regional economic strategy that achieves measurable outcomes. And the City Council should focus on other city priorities that require its real expertise and attention.