Portlands new mayor pledges cooperation on regional issues

by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Portland Mayor Charlie HalesCharlie Hales was surprised to receive his first standing ovation as Portland mayor last week.

It happened after Hales spoke before the by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, a business advocacy organization based in Tigard that includes public, private and community leaders in Washington and western Clackamas counties.

“I think I got it just for showing up,” Hales said.

There’s some truth to that. Hales is the first Portland mayor to speak to the organization since it was formed in 1998.

“And it’s not the first time one has been asked,” WEA Executive Director Pamela Treece noted when she introduced him during a breakfast at the Embassy Suites in Tigard.

But Hales’ message to the organization was also warmly received. He promised that Portland would be a partner and ally on issues of regional concern. He mentioned working together to improve the economy, lobbying the 2013 Legislature to increase public school funding, improving the transportation infrastructure and helping TriMet get back on its feet.

“We can partner in a lot of ways,” Hales said. That theme was well received. Many in the WEA have long had a wary view of the city of Portland. The Jan. 24 breakfast forum audience of about 130 people included Metro councilors, county commissioners, mayors, city council members and special district representatives. Many have often watched in frustration as former Portland mayors have thrown their weight around on regional issues without consulting neighboring city officials.

For example, in the past year, former Mayor Sam Adams pushed TriMet to subsidize transit passes for Portland students, even though the transit agency is supported by a regional payroll tax. Adams also supported fluoridating the city’s water supply, even though it is also sold to several surrounding cities and water districts, some of whom opposed the plan.

Friendly competition

Hales was welcomed to the forum by Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle. The choice of Doyle was loaded with symbolism, because Nike, whose world headquarters is in Washington County on the edge of Beaverton, could be considering either Portland or Beaverton for its expansion project. But Doyle made it clear he is not offended by the competition.

“The game is changing,” Doyle said during his introduction. “The region is growing, and it is going to grow together.”

Other elected officials said they considered Hales’ appearance an important first step toward improving the relationship between Portland and the rest of the region.

“Just him showing up is a big deal. He’s got some uphill climbing to do, but we’ll help him,” Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey said after the speech.

Doyle agreed.

“It signaled to all of us that we can really become a region. If not, we’re going to lose out in the world economy,” Doyle said.

Despite extending an olive branch to the WEA, Hales also said Portland would continue competing with the rest of the region for appropriated economic development projects. But he also cheered Hillsboro and Washington County for successfully working with Intel on recent major expansion projects.

“Twenty-five percent of Intel’s employees live in Portland. When they expand, we expand,” Hales said.

Hales also said lobbying the 2013 Legislature to stabilize and increase public school funding was a top priority. He said this session must act to prevent school districts from continuing to cut days from the school year, increasing class sizes and dropping valuable programs, like the workforce training classes that employers count on.

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