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April 28th, 2004 The Nose | The Nose
 

Leonard's Artful Deal

     
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Randy Leonard opened the door to critics with a fee waiver for the Portland Art Museum's expansion project.
IMAGE: THOMAS COBB
Why is the City Council's resident Tasmanian Devil--a champion of the little guy, a Braveheart for us taxpaying slugs--dealing from the bottom of the deck to the fat cats at the Portland Art Museum?

Randy Leonard is the Nose's favorite city commish. From the moment Leonard stormed City Hall two years ago, the former firefighter and state legislator has shaken up bureaucrats, asked uncomfortable questions and shown the patience of a gerbil on Red Bull. It's no accident that all three of his bureaus have new directors.

The Nose loves it.

Is he effective? It's not yet clear whether his wholesale changes at the Office of Neighborhood Involvement will re-energize that bureau. Or whether his canning of License Bureau Chief Jim Wadsworth and suspension of three housing inspectors will be bold fixes or expensive distractions.

But you have to admire his steel.

Critics--10 of whom are running against him in the May election--say Leonard is a bully who ignores process.

Maybe so, but if the Nose were a campaign consultant, he'd encourage them to focus instead on Leonard's decision last week to waive $50,000 in permit fees the museum owes.

PAM recently began renovating the Masonic Temple adjacent to the main museum on the Park Blocks. The $31.5 million project is no cosmetic makeover. And like anybody else, the museum needs permits to ensure the work meets city codes. Those permits include fees.

But Leonard, who commands the Bureau of Development Services, decided that the museum, which posted an operating surplus of $6.1 million on its last tax return and has net assets of $131 million, doesn't have to pay all that it owes.

What's going on here? Why is the commish, who has railed against tax breaks for DINK dwellers in the Pearl, subsidizing an organization that is already exempt from paying property and income taxes?

Does Leonard have a secret weakness for Auguste Renoir's Head of a Woman with a Rose, now on display at PAM?

Is he simply giving a payback to Pete Mark, the developer and philanthropist who is chair of the museum's capital campaign and a Leonard campaign contributor to the tune of nearly $9,000?

Will he give every nonprofit the same break? Will he give for-profits such as New Seasons, which also serves the public but pays taxes and doesn't charge admission fees, a break on its new North Portland store?

Leonard says BDS gave PAM far less of a break than requested. He says he asked staff to follow guidelines for breaks given to other nonprofits such as Lakeside Little League. He says he knew there would be questions about Mark's involvement but PAM shouldn't be penalized because Leonard is running for office. "Whatever we do has to be consistent," he says.

Last week, Leonard introduced an ordinance that would greatly expand the discretion of the Bureau of Development Services--i.e., him. Given his donation to the art museum, you'd have to ask, what the hell is he planning on doing next?

 
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