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Sten wrong in PBA challenge

We expect elected officials to protect the public's interest when it comes to taxpayer dollars and programs funded by taxes.

We expect efforts to ensure transparency in government and the appropriate use of tax dollars, spent in a manner that produce results.

The past week and a half, city Commissioner Erik Sten strayed beyond these boundaries by floating allegations that the Portland Business Alliance may be using funds from the downtown Clean & Safe program for its own political purposes. Those funds come from business taxes collected from downtown property owners to promote the safety and cleanliness of the city's core.

Sten also questions whether the PBA is using Clean & Safe funds for political activities, such as to oppose Sten's public campaign-finance plan.

'If the PBA is spending too much on overhead, we should find out,' Sten told the Portland Tribune and other local media.

Sten certainly has a right to know how the program is run and how business improvement district dollars collected from downtown businesses are being spent by the PBA. But he failed to first take his questions to the PBA or the independent board of directors of Portland Downtown Services Inc., the nonprofit organization made up of property owners that tax themselves to fund Clean & Safe.

Instead, Sten seemingly was willing to shoot first and then watch a minimedia frenzy develop. Soon came stern rebuttals from the PBA.

Meanwhile, as of Wednesday morning, Sten admitted that as far as pursuing his concerns, 'I haven't formally done anything at all, or followed up.' But he added, the matter has taken on 'a life of its own.'

This public tussle should never have happened as it did. What good has come from this brouhaha to date? We suspect little or nothing.

We urge Sten and other public figures to serve the public's trust and protect their tax dollars by investigating first, not assuming or alleging without reasonable basis. Elected officials also should serve the public by leading and communicating.

The good of the city is not well-served when elected officials jump on an issue, whether the issue is real or not, grab attention through headlines, and then drop the matter and move to another matter. We expect Ñ and voters should expect Ñ diligent and consistent leadership that serves to improve, not simply pose.

The PBA can learn from this matter as well. Although the alliance is a private nonprofit organization, when it comes to its involvement in publicly funded programs such as Clean & Safe, it should communicate its activities, expenditures and outcomes openly and often, completely and always in advance.

Sten serves Portland with enthusiasm, commitment and effectiveness on a variety of fronts, including homelessness. But last week, when it came to his difficulties with or questions about the PBA, he could have done far better.