Monday, March 06, 2006

Amanda Fritz Interview, Part 2

read Part 1 here...
since Part 1 published, another candidate seeking full public financing--Emilie Boyles--has qualified, and Erik Sten has turned in his signatures...

When we left our discussion with Amanda, she was talking about projects and ideas from the current commissioners that she'd lend her active support to. I also asked what her areas of priority wereand if given the choice which bureaus she'd like to lead. As before, indented material is direct from email responses, edited for length but not content. Paraphrases are from a face to face followup:
1. Purchasing and improving parks and parks facilities in areas that don't have them - particularly, funding the Washington High School community center, and parks improvements in East Portland; also supporting small community centers and neighborhood parks all over Portland;

2. Funding basic improvements instead of big ticket items - sidewalks and crosswalks by neighborhood schools instead of the tram, for example - and including citizens in setting funding priorities in neighborhoods; and

3. Championing/supporting the successes of the five public school districts in Portland, and building bridges with the school boards.

I would most like to be commissioner for Parks & Recreation. I know the system from the ground up as well as from policy standpoints, and have a record of bringing citizens into the decision-making process and creating successes. Parks needs a commissioner who won't wait until neighbors turn out in droves to advocate to keep their local swimming pool or community center funded, and to buy and improve new parks in areas that don't have them. I'll advocate to make sure these essential neighborhood gathering places all over the city are considered priority services in the budget.

You asked me to name one bureau, but I'll give you two - I would also like to be commissioner for the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. Nobody on the current Council has been as active in the system or truly recognizes its potential. It's a nationally renowned structure, yet so often commissioners fail to appreciate its volunteers or its capacity... except during the election season.

There's no shortage of ambition here. Knowing that parks was a significant passion, I pressed her on that subject and for other ideas--which flowed quickly and specifically across the table. Not to lean on her career as a character crutch, but there is a viable nurse's appeal with Fritz. She carries that appreciation for ruthless efficency and smart organization, matched to highly genuine concern for people as individuals. And like most nurses, you can't help but get the sense that practical experience in the bowels of the system often makes them better diagnosticians than the 'superior' professionals.

Fritz's plan is to:
Form one separate Parks district of all existing Portland Parks & Recreation properties -- like the Tualatin Hills Parks & Recreation district. It would have a dedicated allocation from property taxes and be governed and managed by a directly elected board rather than by the Council as a city bureau.

The problem with levies, is that when multiple operating levies are passed
concurrently, they hit up against the overall cap imposed by Measure 50,
which limits the total amount that can be collected no matter how many
ballot initiatives funding parks, libraries, crime prevention, and other
operating expenses voters pass. So because voters passed the last parks
levy, Children's fund levy, and the school local option property tax to run
simultaneously, all three of those levies collected up to 30% less than
promised on the ballot, due to the Measure 50 cap. This led to voters
feeling betrayed when, for example, there wasn't enough money collected for
parks to fund promises like keeping the Buckman pool open.

And, when voters pass an operating levy as we did for parks, General Fund
allocations to parks tend to be cut so the net gain is less than promised.
If parks were run by an elected Board with dedicated funding, disconnected
from the other city services by becoming a separate entity, that couldn't

For her, parks are a necessary component of urban growth, and should be part of the package for planned development. She envisions 'mega' Local Improvement District funding plans that include park appropriations built in. She also supports extending the Central Eastside District--along with North Mississippi, perhaps the most unsung redevelopment success story of the last five years--out as far as Washington/Monroe at 14th and Stark Southeast.

There are other ideas--one is using Council time and strategy to promote Portland Public Schools and show the quality of the experience, strengthening the community perception that good work is being done. A noble goal, but at long as the state's education dollars come from variable income tax revenue, in down times like now no amount of good-news stories helps. Fritz fully agrees that Measure 5 has been critically damaging to the health of Oregon localities, but wonders in Portland's case whether a sense of arrogance in dealing with Salem has hurt the City in getting their fair share.

I probed a little bit on seemingly quixotic fights that often veered beyond control of the City Council. I asked, in the past a charge against the Council has been that personal philosophies and ideologies tend to become voting issues before the body, when they have neither impact or import to City business. How do you feel about this 'symbolic' role of Council, where part of the duty is to advance a municipal opinion as a member of a larger community of cities?
It depends. Sometimes on the Planning Commission, I'd vote for or against something, or raise it under "Items of Interest to Commissioners" on the agenda, just to make a statement. Most often, I believe we should be working on things that will actually make a difference in areas where we have control or influence.

Two examples:

I see championing the public schools as a city commissioner's responsibility, as without great public schools, we will cease to be a great city. I will attend School Board meetings and talk regularly with members of the five school boards, to ensure better collaboration between the jurisdictions. I will support funding mechanisms to supplement the inadequate allocation from the state.

I would vote for a resolution opposing the war in Iraq, because it's an issue that should matter to every citizen, and just holding the hearing would remind everyone that yes, we're at war and it affects families in our community – many very directly. I'm even more interested in a resolution that would provide free access to community centers for the families of soldiers serving overseas.

Bringing up Iraq, I felt, gave me the green light to have her run the challenger's gauntlet of "stuff the current guys have had to deal with; how would you do better?"

The withdrawal of Portland Police from the federal anti-terror task force
Good decision. Civil rights are the foundation of our country. Persecution of the few in the name of protection of the majority is un-American. And if any mayor in America should have the right to Top Secret clearance, it would be Tom Potter. I have complete confidence in Tom that he made the right choice.

The involvement of Council in PGE's proposed sale, operation and oversight
Most cities in the nation have public power and lower rates. It is absolutely within the Council's realm of responsibility to work on a better deal for our citizens, and to keep close tabs on utility monopolies.

The ongoing battle with EPA over wastewater treatment and now cryptosporidium
I agree with opposing the EPA on the drinking water issue. If they want us to filter/treat the water, the federal government should pay for it. I don't believe the federal government should have the power to make us cover the reservoirs. Local jurisdictions should have the right to choose the level of protection they wish to purchase. On wastewater treatment, I'm disturbed by the reports of interference in the decision-making process by Oregon politicians outside of Portland. It sounds like the battle is the continuing one of Portland vs. the rest of the state (which I plan to help address), as much as with the EPA.

Of course, the perfect storm between current issue and political passion of Fritz's is the OHSU aerial tram. As an employee of OHSU and vocal nursing union activist, she is in the thick of the debate, and does not spare opinions. (Perhaps her best observation of the evening was in response to my question about patients possibly riding the tram. My thought was in regards to the transferrence of disease, but she had an entirely different view: "I'm a psychiatric nurse--the tram strikes me as a spectacular suicide opportunity.")

Portlanders don't just invent boondoggles; things have to hold some promise of positive outcome for us to get behind them. Sometimes the cost is too great--often it's the cost of our collective dithering. And I'd figure an OHSU employee would most sympathize with the idea. One might imagine, I said, that you would approve of the subsidy to build biotech facilities on South Waterfront and move people to them via aerial tram. But you're firmly against it. Why?
I will oppose the tram, and hope to prove to two other members of the Council it's not necessary and that it would be cheaper to pay the penalties and not build it. OHSU doesn't need the tram, they just want the tram, and in fact it's just OHSU administration that wants it - most patient-care employees I've talked with think it's a huge waste of money. It was "needed" because OHSU did a survey of desired travel time for people who might be going from Pill Hill to South Waterfront, and found (surprise surprise!) they'd like to be able to get there faster than the 15 minutes it takes by limo.

The expansion potential is now zoned and being implemented in the SoWa district, so the facilities are being built. There's no reason a luxury, efficient shuttle system wouldn't suffice for the connection.

No researcher in the country is going to refuse to come to Portland based on whether there's a tram or not. The larger question is whether OHSU and SoWa can attract biotechnology even with the tram. The evidence in the record didn't assess whether Portland can compete with existing biotech magnets in Seattle and San Francisco - it compared us with North Carolina and Pittsburgh. The first biotech tzar hired by OHSU resigned after a year stating they have "delusions of grandeur". What I will do is be a lot more real and honest, and focus on what OHSU does magnificently - taking care of sick people and helping restore them to health, innovation in medicine and training excellent physicians, rather than a spin-off biotechnology campus.

Emphasis on treatment over academic research--again, the nurse comes shining through. So she's no fan, and she's willing to take on the Pill Hill establishment to make it known. As a longtime activist fighting hugely powerful interests in Portland, I wondered how she figured she could then turn around and pledge to represent their interests at least in part while acting as Commissioner. How will she deal with a busines community or OHSU elite that greets her at the swearing-in with a handshake in one fist and a recall petition in the other?
Four years ago, OHSU (using your example) thought the striking nurses were an impediment to their interests. In fact, our strike probably saved the hospital system in Oregon, as without it nursing wages would have continued to drop compared with other states, and Oregon's nursing shortage would be even more acute. We need someone on the Council who will question the assumption that business as usual is the right way to go. I will approach those who consider me contrary to their interests the same way I try to approach everyone - with respect, courtesy, and consideration for their ideas. I learned on the Planning Commission that even the most off-the-wall testifier who has been completely wrong on numerous previous occasions, will present a good idea if the decision-maker continues to listen long enough.

Finally, I asked some personal questions to get her sense of the City itself: where is your favorite place to go in Portland, and what's a place or thing about the City that you'd like to see changed?

Favorite place to go - Markham Elementary School. Because my neighborhood has such a high immigrant population, the children in the school sport every skin tone from palest pink to darkest brown, and a rich variety of cultural styles. When my daughter was in second grade, her classroom had children born in 13 different countries. And it makes me happy to see the little girls and boys laughing together and the teachers guiding them, to think of our future and what each of them could be. It reminds me of my three children and how they've grown, how well they've learned in Portland Public Schools, and how much our family loves living in Portland.

Place or thing I'd like to see changed - city meetings. I don't see that same range of skin tones or gender, laughter, hope, and "family feeling" around the tables in City Hall. I love and appreciate the people who do participate, and I want to find ways to "make new friends, and keep the old". It's not that the people at the table now aren't welcome and needed, rather that we need to invite and encourage others to join in. And we need to foster an atmosphere different from the hostile, argumentative, egotistic environment too often seen when government or "the other side" is viewed as the enemy. The government is us. Portland is us - all of us.

The government is us. Portland is us - all of us. I'll take that as a slogan.