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When Ted Wheeler takes over as the next Portland mayor in two weeks, he needs to add another item to his already lengthy to-do list. The incoming mayor must use the powers of his office to curtail the number of outlandish and ill-conceived ideas that come before the City Council.


When Ted Wheeler takes over as the next Portland mayor in two weeks, he needs to add another item to his already lengthy to-do list. The incoming mayor must use the powers of his office to curtail the number of outlandish and ill-conceived ideas that come before the City Council.

For the most part, Portland commissioners have been rightly concerned with the everyday details of policy and government. On occasion, however, individual members advance proposals that are designed simply to make a Portlandia-style statement.

The most recent example comes from Commissioner Steve Novick, who last month lost his bid for re-election. From his tenuous perch at City Hall, Novick sought to lash out at Wall Street by imposing a new city tax on publicly traded companies that pay their CEOs more than 100 times what a median-wage employee earns.

Many people agree with Novick that CEO salaries at the nation's biggest corporations are getting out of hand, but this is not an issue that relates even remotely to governing the city of Portland.

If the tax could be collected (and that's still an "if") it would raise about $2.5 million a year, but this first-in-the-nation knock against big business would come at the cost of adding to Portland's (often undeserved) reputation as a place hostile to business. Indeed, the Portland Business Alliance's Sandra McDonough was quoted in the Dec. 7 New York Times as saying the tax was an "empty gesture" aimed at "an easy group to pick on."

Meanwhile, Novick's replacement on the council, Chloe Eudaly, is making news with her proposal to impose a rent freeze in Portland — even though local rent controls are explicitly outlawed in Oregon. Eudaly argues the city should engage in "municipal disobedience" and fight any lawsuits that arise from Portland's willful violation of the state law.

Again, Eudaly has identified a legitimate concern — sky-high rents. However, it is inappropriate for an elected city official to advocate violating her state's own laws. If Oregon's largest city decides to flaunt the laws it doesn't like, what's to stop Burns, Bend or Beaverton from rejecting statutes they find disagreeable?

We also object to the notion that Portland taxpayers should pay for a legal battle over rent controls, when the correct place to have this conversation is in the state Legislature.

We don't know if Eudaly's suggestion will make it onto a future council agenda, but it shouldn't. And that's where Wheeler should come into the picture. The new mayor and his fellow four city commissioners have major issues to consider. Housing and homelessness, neighborhood infill, street repairs, police accountability and local job opportunities were among the issues most prominent in the recent city campaigns.

Voters expect their council to focus on concrete proposals to address those concerns, and not to be distracted by issues that have little to do with Portland — such as CEO pay — or by calls to openly defy state laws.

Novick's CEO tax passed last week on a 3-1 vote, but two of the "yes" votes came from Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales, who will be gone when Wheeler steps in. The measure would not take effect for a year, allowing the new council to revamp — or reconsider — what passed last week.

The office of mayor isn't a strong one in Portland, but Wheeler has both the bully pulpit and the power to hand out bureau assignments at his command. He should send a strong message to fellow commissioners that he intends to concentrate on issues that have a direct impact on Portlanders' lives, rather than turning the city into a petri dish for anti-corporation causes and test cases for civil disobedience.

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