June 5th, 2009 5:33 pm | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics

Metro Councillors Move to Oust MERC Boss


Two members of the seven-person Metro Council have joined Council President David Bragdon in a move to take firmer control of the Metropolitan Exposition Recreation Commission, which is part of Metro.

The commission has a $40 million budget, owns assets worth $500 million and has an independent board. But that last fact—the independent board—is where the current conflict lies. Although MERC's board members are appointed by the Metro Council President, they are resisting Bragdon's desire that MERC CEO David Woolson (photo above) be replaced.

So today councillors Rex Burkholder and Rod Park wrote a polite but pointed letter (PDF) to MERC board chairman Don Trotter informing him that they will introduce an ordinance giving Metro direct hiring and firing power over MERC executives—a move that does not bode well for Woolson's job security.
we are introducing an ordinance, with support from others, which better aligns accountability and responsibility. We strongly believe that to uphold its obligations to the voters of this region, the Metro Council should work closely with the MERC Commission to provide direct oversight of the MERC general manager. This ordinance requires the Metro Council to approve, by public vote, the MERC General Manager's initial hiring, continued employment and salary changes.
We believe this change is particularly timely given growing public concern about government employee salaries, the challenging economic environment and attention to the fiscal discipline of all of Metro's operations. We also believe this particular change will improve our ability to implement several of the very important and complex projects we are working on together.

The letter which was accompanied by a brief staff report (PDF) comes from the two councillors who have been closely involved with key MERC/Metro projects in which Bragdon says Woolson has dropped the ball. Burkholder initially led Metro's participation in the planning for the proposed $4.2 billion Columbia River Crossing project, which would affect MERC's Expo Center. And Park is the lead councillor on the proposed $250 million "headquarters hotel" which would be adjacent to MERC's Oregon Convention Center.

Last week, WW reported that Bragdon and his colleagues are displeased with Woolson's performance on those two projects. In one letter, Bragdon wrote:

Mr. Woolson's compensation [a salary of $184,000 and bonus of $14,000 last year] makes him one of the highest paid public employees in the entire state of Oregon, yet it is increasingly clear he is not performing well in the job. I urge you to consider the productivity and costs associated with the current management at MERC and take the step which is necessary to rectify the situation.

Earlier this week, The Oregonian noted that Woolson's job evaluations rated him highly.

Trotter says he only just received the letter from Burkholder and Park. "I haven't really had time to read the information thoroughly yet or have any comment," he says.
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