Mayors in the Portland area are staging a rebellion of sorts against the Metro regional government. At first glance, this may seem to be a case of mayors just being mayors.
They are exercising their independence and being a bit cantankerous, as mayors are wont to do. But a closer look at this issue reveals that the mayors' dissatisfaction with some of Metro's practices is really a symptom of a deeper fracture - one that separates suburban communities from the values and goals advanced by Metro and the city of Portland.
Recent policy conflicts at Metro have included a proposal by Portland Mayor Sam Adams that would require all new housing developments in the region to have a minimum of 20 units per acre - a density that exceeds what most suburban communities would be willing to tolerate. Beyond that, cities in Washington County also were unhappy with Metro's decision to allow only a very limited expansion in the westside's urban growth boundary.
Such conflicts are not the stated reason that about 20 of the region's 25 mayors have started meeting outside of the Metro structure, but certainly these issues contribute to the general feeling that cities need a larger say in regional decisions. Local jurisdictions are supposed to get that voice through the Metro Policy Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of cities, counties and other regional players. But not every mayor has a seat at the table, and even some of those who do participate report that Metro councilors and staff drive the advisory committee's agenda. These mayors also say the group rarely talks about issues of greatest importance to the region.
That's where the renegade mayors' group enters the picture. Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, Troutdale Mayor Jim Kight, Fairview Mayor Mike Weatherby, Wood Village Mayor Pat Smith and Damascus Mayor Steve Spinnett are among those participating in the mayoral discussions, which have included meaty issues ranging from the state's property tax system to the urgent need for economic development.
We welcome this melding of the mayoral minds and believe that mayors are close enough to the ground in each of their respective cities to recognize the real concerns of everyday residents and taxpayers. But like the mayors themselves, we're not sure where these meetings ultimately will lead.
We also would caution that the mayors should make their discussions open to reporters, so that the public doesn't begin to suspect that deals are being cut behind the scenes.
But with those caveats in mind, we believe a great deal of good can come from regional cooperation. Whether it occurs within the confines of Metro's structure or in a more free-flowing manner among mayors, such collaboration can help each community in the region attain its economic and livability goals.