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Our Opinion: New year, new council, new challenges

At Portland City Hall, Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick have officially moved into the chairs once occupied by Sam Adams and Randy Leonard. Many Portlanders suffering from Adams-Leonard fatigue might be relieved to see fresh faces, but they also must realize that, while key players have changed, the underlying issues have not.

Adams went out of office in furious fashion — trying to wrap up as many projects as humanly possible in his final few months as mayor. One of Hales’ first challenges will be to decide whether to complete the initiatives remaining on Adams’ agenda, including renovation of Veterans Memorial Coliseum and buying the Post Office building in Old Town. Hales’ decisions and sense of urgency about these unresolved matters will send a strong signal to the rest of the City Council about his ability to focus as he moves forward.

Weighty issues confronting Portland will quickly become overwhelming if Hales and the council are unable to set priorities and address issues in a sequential manner. Hales is correct in concentrating initially on the city budget, which faces a $25 million shortfall for the 2013-14 fiscal year. To prevent that shortfall from becoming an ongoing financial burden, Hales and city commissioners must make real and permanent spending reductions in bureaus under their authority.

Beyond those immediate financial concerns, Hales and the council have no shortage of meaty matters to contend with. Some that rise to the top of our list include:

Quickly deciding whether to fight the EPA mandate on covering or replacing open reservoirs, so the city in turn can decide whether to keep funding replacement projects.

Putting a halt as soon as possible to multifamily projects allowed without parking. Surveys show tenants in those buildings still have cars and they leave them parked for days on end in nearby neighborhoods.

Resolving the conflict between citizen oversight of police and the police union. Last week brought another example: the Portland Police Review Board recommended firing Capt. Todd Wyatt after finding he didn’t tell the truth about serious breaches of conduct. Yet, Police Chief Mike Reese simply demoted him to a desk job.

Settling the water/sewer ratepayer lawsuit to allow the city to re-establish a rational policy for ratepayer spending before the judge imposes one.

Coming to a new agreement with Multnomah County on which of the two local governments is responsible for specific services. Thirty years after the city and the county reached an agreement — Resolution A — to eliminate government duplication, there still remains too much overlap, especially in social services and public safety.

Changing the atmosphere at City Hall from one of confrontation to cooperation. The council’s decision on water fluoridation is a good example of how the city muffed a chance to engage the public in a process without antagonizing large segments of the population.

Following through on plans recommended by citizen committees. Too often during the past four years, citizens selected for committees and commissions worked hard on issues only to have their ideas tossed aside at the last minute. Ending that pattern will create more trust among those who dedicate their time to helping the city on projects and programs.

Bringing baseball back to the Rose City. For heaven’s sake, we should never have lost it in the first place. Find a suitable spot for a stadium and then develop it in a Rose Garden-style public-private project.

Dedicating all City Hall staffers and elected officials to bringing high-paying jobs to Portland. The city has lagged too long behind Seattle and other West Coast cities on salary and annual income. It won’t be done overnight, but we can make it happen with a plan and dedication to the cause.

Making our streets and schools safer by encouraging everyone in this city to consider safety a part of his or her civic duties. No parent should worry about sending his or her child to school each day. Only through a community effort can we change the climate of fear and intimidation that comes from crime and poorly secured schools.

Working with surrounding communities to enhance public transit and public safety needs. The suburbs are tired of being dragged along behind Portland’s Big Dawg attitude.

This final point may be the most vital. Even though regional cooperation isn’t an official part of the job for a mayor or city commissioner, Portland can only be successful if it recognizes its role as a key player among many working toward a more prosperous region.