As Portland City Hall braces itself for a May vote that could strip its authority over its water and sewer bureaus, the city's lawyers are scrambling to understand what the ballot measure could mean for Portland property and finances.
The short answer: If Ballot Measure 26-156 passes, the rest of 2014 will be spent divvying up ownership of property and employees between the city and a new public water district.
An April 3 memo from the City Attorney's Office to Mayor Charlie Hales, released in response to a records request from WW and The Oregonian, shows the far-reaching effects—and uncertainty—created by changing the government that oversees public utilities.
"In numerous instances," the memo says, "the measure's language raises questions to which there are no clear answers."
The memo confirms previous reporting by WW that as much as $43 million in city funds could be jeopardized by the new board.
That money is paid by the water and sewer bureaus to other parts of city government—paying for legal advice, mechanics repairing bureau vans, payroll costs and other shared overhead.
A few other highlights from the memo:
Measure 26-156 co-petitioner Kent Craford says the City Attorney's Office is wrong in stating property will have to be divided between the city and the water district.
"The City Hall minions working to protect the status quo have made a basic error here," Craford tells WW. "What is property of the city today will remain property of the city tomorrow. To suggest otherwise is either ignorant, or an intentional attempt to mislead the voters."
Hales' office declined comment.