Initiative's author says 'underhanded' maneuvers derailed group's support
Opponents of the controversial measure to reform Portland's city government have used a series of 'underhanded' tactics in an attempt to defeat it, according to the measure's author.
Among other things, Robert Ball contends, a Portland City Club director violated the organization's written policies by leaking a committee's research report Ñ which supported Ballot Measure 26-30 Ñ to opponents of the measure before it was released to the public.
The opponents then used the inside information to mount a behind-the-scenes campaign to make sure the full City Club voted against the measure at its May 3 membership meeting, according to e-mails the opponents sent to each other.
The measure, also known as the 'Good Government Initiative,' appears on the May 21 election ballot. It would increase the size of the Portland City Council to nine members, make most of the commissioners run from geographic zones and place all city agencies under the direct supervision of the mayor.
Ball wanted the 86-year-old club's endorsement because it would have validated the need for reform. 'The City Club promotes itself as 'The Conscience of Portland,' ' he said. 'It is known for being fair, impartial and free from politics.'
Current board member Arnold Cogan, who learned about the leak from the Tribune, said he may request a special meeting of the board to investigate who violated the club's policies and whether the vote should be reconsidered because of the behind-the-scenes campaign.
'This information is to be kept very guarded until it's released,' Cogan said. 'We're all supposed to comply by the rules. It's an honor system.'
The City Club incident was detailed in dozens of e-mail exchanges among the measure's opponents that were obtained by the Tribune. The e-mails revealed that the opponents were able to influence the number of City Club votes cast against the measure by learning of the outcome of the research report before Ball did.
'I've tried to go out and engage Portlanders in a real dialogue about their city,' Ball said. 'I was stunned and saddened to learn they were taking these kinds of actions. They were underhanded.'
The messages were circulated among the opponents by an e-mail server list set up by Chris Smith, a volunteer for the No on 26-30 Committee.
Most of the messages obtained by the Tribune were written by Smith, a Northwest neighborhood activist. Some were written by Josh Alpert, a staff assistant for city Commissioner Charlie Hales. Alpert, who confirmed he had written the e-mails, recently announced that he will run for the council seat that Hales is vacating at the end of June.
Smith confirmed the existence of the e-mail and the accuracy of the messages, defending the opponents' actions as nothing more than typical campaign practices.
'Within the world of tactics used in politics, we've exercised great restraint,' Smith said.
Leak leads to action
The initiative is one of the most hotly contested measures on the primary election ballot. It is actively opposed by many political insiders, including former Mayor Bud Clark, former city Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury and Portland Development Commission member John Russell. They have formed a steering committee that meets weekly to plot campaign strategy to defeat the measure. Smith and Alpert also attend the meetings.
Smith set up the e-mail server list March 7 to allow confidential communications among the committee members and other opponents of the measure.
According to their e-mails, Smith and Alpert used the list to influence an Oregon Live poll and a KBOO radio talk show on the measure, but the research report launched by the City Club eventually became their primary target.
After the measure qualified for the May 21 ballot, the club appointed an 11-member research committee to study it and make a recommendation for the full organization to consider.
Seven members supported the measure and wrote a 'majority report' calling for a yes vote on 26-30. Four members disagreed and wrote a 'minority report' recommending a no vote.
The reports were scheduled for release April 26. But the measure's opponents learned what the reports would recommend eight days before they were released.
'Today we learned that the research committee has recommended a YES vote on 26-30,' Smith wrote in an April 18 e-mail. 'There is also a minority report recommending a NO vote.'
Smith told the Tribune that the information on the reports came from a member of the club's Board of Governors who opposed the measure. Smith declined to identify the member.
The inside tip gave Smith an advantage in that Ball did not learn what the reports said until they were formally released April 26.
'I called the City Club several times and asked what the reports said, and each time they said they couldn't tell me until they were released on the 26th,' Ball said.
Smith and other opponents used the advance notice to mount a campaign to defeat the majority report at the May 3 membership meeting. According to the e-mails, the strategy included getting club members who opposed the measure to attend the meeting and asking opponents who weren't members of the club to quickly join so they could vote against it, too.
Only a couple of the opponents joined the City Club as a result of Smith's urgings, but the campaign was successful. Members at the meeting overwhelmingly rejected the majority report and approved the minority report at the May 3 meeting.
Smith believes that the club would have rejected the majority report even without the behind-the-scenes campaign.
'Most members were leaning against the measure even before the debate,' he said.
Against the rules
Alpert congratulated Smith on the organizing effort in a May 4 e-mail.
'Chris, a huge thanks to you for your efforts of pulling this all together Ñ you are a true patriot and hero!' Alpert wrote.
Ball thinks that the campaign casts the City Club in a bad light.
'This not only undermines the good work of the steering committee but the credibility of the City Club itself,' he said.
Nancy Glerum, a research committee member who supported the majority report, said she was appalled to learn about the behind-the-scenes campaign.
'It was very unfair,' Glerun said. 'I felt the meeting was stacked against us when I walked in.'
Operation of the club is overseen by a president and a 15-member Board of Governors that has included many of the city's most prominent citizens over the years. The current board includes President Paddy Tillett, President-Elect Susan Kelly, Jane Cease, Doug Marker, Ginnie Cooper, Stephen Schneider, Arnold Cogan, Tom Deering, Daniel Findley, Katy King, Korleen Kraft, Kurt Krause, Josephine Pope, Carol Witherell and Harriet Watson.
Much of the club's day-to-day work is performed by research committees that study pressing issues and prepare reports for the full membership to adopt or reject. Club policies require that the deliberations be kept secret until the reports are released to the public.