Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sewer Bureau is not immune to mismanagement

Opposition to utility management reform in Portland has argued that the drive to better protect our public utilities doesn't need to include the sewer bureau (BES). That bureau hasn't, afterall, displayed the kind of gross mismanagement and cronyism seen in the Portland Water Bureau.  Never mind that the oversight gap we've identified leaves all public utilities vulnerable.

As we are beginning to learn, BES is no longer immune to the mismanagement issues we've historically seen at PWB. Unfortunately, where there is money and lax oversight, manipulation eventually follows. 

Portlanders are now learning about a recent BES construction project -- it is just office space, it does not serve any technical, waste-management function, and it doesn't even offer that much office space as it's just for 38 employees.  BES spent over $12 million on this one building, which comes out to more than $300,000 per office.  The per square foot cost is over $1,000, which is more than 3x quality new office building space in Portland. The lobby has $1,200 chairs and the bathroom stalls have $2,000 custom doors.  This is hard to justify, yet, the director of BES gets on camera and tries to claim it was a good deal because expensive things last longer.  Sometimes that is true, sometimes it isn't, sometimes there is a price point in the middle that is both quality and affordable and people spending public money are expected to target that point. Also, sometimes your architect wants to use your pocket-book to produce a grand show-piece for his portfolio.  Employees with BES were so upset about the spending, they outed the facts, and even offered photos of decaying sewer infrastructure that they wish the money had been spent on instead.

Here are some of the reports about this new, grand entrance to the sewage plant:

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