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Accountability counts most

As a promoter of local public-private partnerships, I read with interest your Jan. 27 editorial, 'Building trust takes long time.'

I strongly agree with your editorial statement that 'economic and community development best occur when municipal, private and nonprofit partners work together to strategize, invest, communicate and solve problems. And this only happens with mutual trust, leadership, hard work and innovation.'

In Portland, we are fortunate to have an engaged business community that often partners with the public sector to build much of what is the best of Portland, such as Pioneer Courthouse Square, the airport light-rail line and the Pearl District.

While I deeply value and promote our tradition of joint public and private endeavors, as a city commissioner I am adamant that these partnerships must be transparent and accountable.

In the case of such a significant project as the tram, transparency and accountability are crucial. Yet, as The Oregonian reported Jan. 12, tram project managers knowingly withheld information on likely cost overruns of 50 percent from the City Council for more than eight months. Public records show that project leaders told the tram architect they would 'go with $15.5 (million project costs) and fix it later,' after City Council approval.

This shielding is unacceptable. Public employees have an obligation to tell the truth, no matter how ugly that truth may be. The City Council cannot make informed decisions without it.

So when such evidence within a public-private partnership is presented to me and/or the public, I must act. I must act even if it doesn't make me friends.

Since taking over this project as transportation commissioner seven months ago, my staff and I have taken a more hands-on approach to managing the tram project.

I have added five new people Ñ with new perspectives Ñ to the tram board, assigned new project management staff, met with the architect to try and reduce design costs, lobbied for the project in Washington, D.C., and negotiated with Oregon Health & Science University and North Macadam investors to put more money into the project.

The independent Portland Development Commission audit results released this week give us the best information to date on the tram project's true costs. The project is almost $40 million over its initial $15.5 million budget.

I agree that building trust in a public-private partnership takes a long time. I have taken steps to rebuild that trust, but it must be constantly nurtured with ongoing transparency.

City Commissioner Sam Adams oversees the city's Office of Transportation.