Friday, May 26, 2006

Fritz Back Doing What She Does Best

Amanda Fritz's political career in Portland does not appear over, either by defeat or lack of will to try again. But while she waits for a chance to pounce on an open seat, it's back to doing what has been her bread and butter for over a decade: pestering government to give more account to citizen input.

As Mercury Blogtown tells it (and curse them for cheating and using paid reporters to offer lightning quick updates and ongoing journalism between issues), Fritz "totally schooled" City Council, and from her testimony and the results it looks like they're right.

Quick background: The "Adjustment Committee" is a citizen-composed appeals board for exemptions in the zoning code granted by the City. The Bureaus of Planning and Development Services naturally are heavily involved with zoning decisions, so when they came to Mayor Potter and claimed that the committee was stymied due to unfilled vacancies among the citizen volunteers, he put an item on the agenda to suspend its operations and give appeals authority to the City hearings officer.

Who should be monitoring the City Council agenda but citizen's champion Fritz? She immediately pounced on the structural flaw in the resolution, when speaking Wednesday morning:
If you want to change the rules in the zoning code, you must change the rules, not ignore them. You are not allowed to amend them by administrative action. State law requires that changes to the zoning code must be reviewed by the Planning Commission and adopted by the Council. A vote to suspend the Adjustment Committee would be out of compliance with state law. The Zoning code [section 33.710.070] assigns review of adjustment requests to the Adjustment Committee. [Section 33.710.080 defines the role of the Hearings Officer.] It states the Hearings Officer acts to decide matters assigned by the zoning code. Adjustment requests are not one of the land use reviews assigned to the Hearings Officer in the code.
That may have been enough to cause Commissioners to actually take two seconds and reflect on the matter, but the right hook that always follows the left jab was quick in coming:
The proposal states the reason for suspending the Adjustment Committee is that you don't have enough volunteers for members. No request for volunteers was publicized prior to bringing this action today to suspend the committee. I heard about the proposal last Thursday. Since then, I have recruited a list of 12 volunteers in addition to myself, for the four vacancies on the committee. They include 7 nominees for the 2 at-large positions, 1 for the urban design professional category vacancy, and 3 for the construction/finance professional category vacancy, plus one person willing to serve if the meeting times fit around a regular work schedule. The volunteers come from all five sections of the city, from Lents to St. Johns, and all seven neighborhood districts and coalitions.
At this point, according to the Merc there was awkward embarrassment, particularly among the Bureau representatives who had cried vacancy. Saltzman opted to "study" the issue for a month or two, but Potter (to his credit) realized he'd been had, and pulled the ordinance. I'm reminded of the Billy Joel lyric back when Billy Joel was an impressive songwriter: "She's so good with her stilletto/you don't really mind the pain." Fritz was pretty stoked as she wrote supporters:
Thanks to the 12 good neighbors who volunteered to join me in offering their time and talents to serve on the Adjustment Committee, this morning Mayor Potter pulled the ordinance to suspend it from consideration...I doubt anyone, even I, woke up last Friday thinking, "gosh, if only I could be on the Adjustment Committee, my life would be complete". Yet 13 of us heard the need, and stepped up.
I don't think there's any doubt that Fritz relished the opportunity to show the Council--and voters--that she was worthy of the chair Saltzman kept from her last week. Her position as neighborhood catalyst has apparently put a ready militia at her side whenver she needs it, however, and when Frtiz flexes those citizen advocate muscles it's a pretty impressive sight.