Portland Commissioner Steve Novick is again facing scrutiny for accepting campaign donations from a group seeking his support on business with the city.
Novick met privately with developers who want to overhaul Veterans Memorial Coliseum in September, then immediately accepted $1,900 in campaign contributions from the same backers, The Oregonian reported Wednesday.
The disclosure is significant because Novick has once again failed to report the meeting on his public calendar, this time telling The Oregonian he blamed the organizers of the Sept. 16 meeting and the Portland auditor's office for leading him to believe it was a campaign event that didn't need to be included.
Last September, the auditor dinged Novick for failing to report a meeting with Uber lobbyists, prompting an apology from Novick. "It should not happen again," he wrote in an email to the auditor, who declined to fine the first-time offender.
Additional public records reviewed by WW show Novick at ease with accepting donations from special interests immediately after hearing pitches on the use of public dollars.
One instance concerns PayLock, a New Jersey-based company that purports to "humanize the parking business" with its high-tech car boots that more easily ensnare motorists who don't pay their parking tickets. Motorists caught with a PayLock boot can use their cellphones to pay their fines and then remove the boots themselves with a code. PayLock says the product results in less hassle for drivers and more money for cities.
In late January, PayLock's Portland lobbyist, Nels Johnson, asked a Novick aide for a meeting with the commissioner. (Johnson also worked as a lobbyist for Uber.)
"I think it would be best to hold off until we have more information," the aide replied.
On April 5, Johnson texted Novick directly.
"Hi Commissioner this is Nels Johnson. I've got a client that has a check for you and would like to do a sit down too. Is that possible? What's the best way to schedule it?"
Novick responded: "By contacting me not on my work phone."
Unlike public employees who are barred by Oregon law from conducting political work on the public dime, elected officials can perform campaign activity at any time. But an aide to Novick says the commissioner separates work and campaign activity, which is why he told the lobbyist to contact him on his personal phone.
Three days later, on April 8, Novick met with Johnson and PayLock executive Stacy Edwards, according to Novick's calendar of public business.
On April 11, Edwards donated $500 to Novick's re-election campaign.
Jake Weigler, a campaign consultant for Novick, dismissed questions about the speed with which Novick scheduled the PayLock meeting and the timing of the donation.
"As part of his campaign, Steve has met with hundreds of people and groups to discuss their policy priorities for the city—frequently on short notice," Weigler wrote in an email. "Indeed, last week the Lents Neighborhood Association asked to meet with Steve before this election and they'll be talking this Sunday. Many of those people and groups also have wanted to support Steve's reelection and we welcome that support."
Novick's opponent, Chloe Eudaly, has declined to take campaign contributions from companies seeking to do business with the city. "This is really disappointing to hear," she said of Novick's interaction with PayLock. "It seems like they're buying an audience with him through campaign contributions."
In August, the Portland Bureau of Transportation implemented a new policy to allow booting instead of towing when parking officials come across vehicles with more than $500 in unpaid parking tickets. The new policy does not use PayLock's technology.
Multnomah County Circuit Court administrators, who work with PBOT to collect parking fines, told Novick last winter its computers are not ready to accommodate PayLock's payment system.
Novick faced criticism in August from his opponent and her supporters when he accepted a $2,000 check from developer Homer Williams then, days later, acted as a swing vote to approve Williams' controversial homeless shelter on city-owned property.