When Tom Potter became mayor this year, he vowed to make the city's bureaus more efficient, friendly and diverse. Step one: He solicited anonymous suggestions, observations and complaints from city employees.
Hundreds obliged, loading Potter's "bureau innovation project" with pointed comments. Here are a few of the most interesting, and the real deal behind them.
THE GRIPE: The Bureau of Environmental Services has eight employees for endangered species?!?
THE IMPLICATION: That's too many.
THE STORY: Actually, the enviro-office has seven employees working to implement federal mandates protecting endangered salmon-a number soon to become six. The program began in the late '90s and has migrated (Ha-ha! How appropriate) to the Planning Bureau and back. Along the way, it has changed pesticide use in parks, road-maintenance practices and how fast Portland gets federal environmental clearance for projects. The annual budget, once about $2.3 million, is now around $1 million. Too much? Some may say so. The poor chinook, however, still think they're getting a raw deal.
THE GRIPE: Cops spend too much money on cars.
THE IMPLICATION: The Finest like 'em fully loaded, not stripped-down.
THE STORY: It's true that cruisers don't come cheap. For the 70 most recently bought cars, the Police Bureau paid $40,434 apiece, including communications equipment and other gear. (A Motorola Spectra radio costs $2,600; the data terminal in each car runs $6,800.) The price was set by a state agreement with manufacturers. In the past, the city bid on cruisers and ended up paying about the same as under the state deal. For what it's worth, the San Francisco Police pay about the same for their rollers.
THE GRIPE: Why can't the cops go to Jiffy Lube for oil changes like everyone else?
THE IMPLICATION: Getting cruisers "serviced" by CityFleet means taxpayers are getting "serviced" in a whole different sense.
THE STORY: This is something of a perennial City Hall gripe-and, on its face, it's not hard to see why. A basic oil change at the Jiffster costs $29.99. It costs the city's vehicle-services department $65.72 to work over a single police car. However, as city spokeswoman Mary Volm writes in an email, "[E]mergency response vehicles require much more than a simple oil change." In 45 minutes, CityFleet changes a cop car's oil, filter and lube, and inspects both the basics (alignment) and special cop-stuff (gun locks). Plus, Volm points out, CityFleet services cop cars in shops at precincts, meaning the city doesn't have to pay someone to pilot a car to Jiffy Lube and wait for a grease-up.
THE GRIPE: Why pay so much for office rent?
THE IMPLICATION: Some offices think they're working at Club Med, not the city.
THE STORY: The city pays $218,965 a year to rent 9,095 square feet (about $24 a square foot) for the Fire & Police Disability & Retirement Board. The License Bureau leases just over 25,000 square feet in downtown's Columbia Square for $448,678 a year (about $18 a square foot). Meanwhile, the city has just under 30,000 square feet of vacant space in its building at 1900 SW 4th Ave. Cost per square foot on the empty city space: $25.