PDX Update



Peace Corps mum on death

The Peace Corps still has not released any details about the death of 23-year-old Zachary Merrill in Africa.

Merrill, who grew up in Portland, graduated from Lake Oswego High School and Northwestern University. He then volunteered for the Peace Corps, serving nearly two years in Kampolosso, Mali.

He had just requested a one-year service extension when he died July 7.

According to a Peace Corps news release, Mali police and U.S. diplomats are investigating the circumstances surrounding Merrill's death.

A Peace Corps spokeswoman would not elaborate on the nature of the investigation, or whether Merrill died from natural causes or was killed.

Merrill's parents, Karen and Andy Merrill of Portland, referred all questions to Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C.

According to the Peace Corps, Merrill's work involved the construction of drinking water wells and the development of a women's gardening project. He had learned to speak the African language used in the region and was known throughout the village by his adopted nickname, Mahamedou Dembele.


Waterfront plan awaits vote

Despite neighborhood opposition and lingering questions about some financing elements, the City Council appears poised to approve the first phase of the South Waterfront redevelopment plan July 31.

The complex agreement will guide the redevelopment of 35 acres within the 130-acre North Macadam Urban Renewal Area along the west bank of the Willamette River just south of the Ross Island Bridge.

It is the most expensive urban renewal plan ever considered by the council. If approved, the city, Oregon Health & Science University and private developers will spend nearly $103 million during the next few years on new roads, water systems, housing, office buildings and parks.

The city is expected to pay

$14 million for infrastructure improvements, with the money coming from increased property values. The council could be forced to find other funding in the future if the values do not increase as much as expected.

The agreement also includes spending $15.5 million on an aerial tram linking the redevelopment area to OHSU. The tram is opposed by neighbors living under the route that runs through the Corbett/Terwilliger/Lair Hill neighborhood. Tram financing comprises $2 million from the city, $4 million from OHSU and $9.5 from a local improvement district.

Leonard unveils reforms

City Commissioner Randy Leonard is following through on his campaign promise to overhaul the Bureau of Development Services, the agency that issues building permits and enforces zoning codes.

During his campaign to succeed Charlie Hales on the City Council, Leonard repeatedly criticized the bureau for being too slow and the staff for not treating the public with respect.

Mayor Vera Katz assigned the bureau to Leonard three months ago. At that time, Leonard named Ray Kerridge as acting director and ordered all employees to participate in a customer service program.

On June 30, Leonard appointed Kerridge permanent director and announced the creation of three new initiatives: a Customer Service and Public Information Division with the authority to resolve citizen complaints; a code review section to improve coordination between agencies; and a pilot program to reduce the time it takes to issue construction permits on single-family homes to 10 days Ñ now six to eight weeks.

Leonard also announced that the bureau will not raise any fees in the fiscal year that began July 1.


Negotiations to resume

Nurses and administrators at Providence Milwaukie Hospital say they are ready to start negotiating again after a one-day nurses' strike Friday that both sides say went smoothly.

'The staff that were here cared for patients in a way the community expects from Providence,' said hospital spokeswoman Renee King. The hospital relied on nurses from other Providence hospitals and replacement agencies.

Sue Pettit, an intensive-care nurse and bargaining unit member, said she was pleased that at least 80 of the hospital's 125 nurses picketed during the strike from

7 a.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday.

Only four nurses crossed picket lines, according to the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, the nurses' union.

Pettit said the nurses went on strike over staffing issues. King said the dispute's main issue is the nurses' desire for an agency shop in which nurses who do not join the union must pay fees or dues. The hospital wants an open shop in which nurses would pay dues only if they joined the union.

Both sides expect to schedule new talks soon. The union has no plans for another strike, a spokesman said.


Steitiye appeal heard

Ali Khaled Steitiye, an unindicted alleged co-conspirator in the Portland Seven case, is attempting to have his 2002 convictions for 12 federal crimes overturned.

Steitiye's attorney, Dennis Balske of Portland, told a federal appeals court panel last week that U.S. District Judge Anna Brown should have suppressed evidence obtained during searches of Steitiye's residence and vehicle in 2001.

The warrants used for the searches were based, in part, on identifications of Steitiye and his wife that were obtained after a federal investigator showed witnesses single photographs of each of them.

Federal prosecutors later learned that the witness identifications of Steitiye and his wife were erroneous and that the Arab male and American female they had described actually were another couple.

Balske argued that the investigator's failure to show the witnesses multiple-picture 'photo throwdowns' warranted suppression of the evidence found in Steitiye's house and van.

That evidence, which included a loaded 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, a loaded assault rifle and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, led to Steitiye's conviction on 12 charges of illegal weapons possession, financial fraud and immigration fraud.

In 2002, Steitiye agreed to the facts of the 12 crimes on condition that he be allowed to appeal Brown's ruling.

Ñ Tribune staff