Lame-duck Mayor Tom Potter has kept a low profile in this, his last year in office. One project
he hoped to make progress on — securing land for a new police training facility in Scappoose — ran full speed into a skeptical Commissioner Randy Leonard at the end of a marathon City Council meeting Wednesday night.
Leonard, a former head of the firefighter's union, has historically been a strong supporter of rank- and-file police officers. But he has been openly skeptical of the proposed 276-acre, $120 million training facility that is a high priority for the Potter and the police bureau.
"I've never said 'no," to the deal," Leonard says. "I've said I want to see that those who want it have done all the ground work on other alternatives – on figuring out whether they can get the zoning in Scappoose and most of all, whether regional partners are willing to invest."
During the city's budget process last spring, Leonard insisted that $1.75 million of the $2 million Potter wanted for buying acreage be put instead in a "rainy day fund." That left the police bureau with $250,000 with which to move ahead on the project.
And although the city has been in continuous negotiations
with developers Joe Weston and Ed Freeman, who control the Scappoose land in question, commitments from the nearly one dozen regional law enforcement agencies considered potential partners haven't materialized.
So when the council considered Potter's request late Wednesday to move the $1.75 million from the "rainy day fund" to the facilities fund as part of the November budget re-allocation, Leonard put his foot down.
Leonard made a motion to keep the money in the rainy day fund until proponents of the deal provided a lot more clarity on everything from re-zoning prospects to partners' cash to help pay for the project. Commissioner Nick Fish and mayor-elect Sam Adams (home sick but participating via telephone) supported Leonard. Rather than end up on the wrong end of a 3-1 vote, Potter reluctantly agreed to vote against his own proposal (Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who will take over a police commissioner in January, was absent).
Leonard says his intention was not to show the mayor up — but rather to hold the police bureau to the requirements he laid out during the last budget cycle.
"They've been trying to sell this deal on partnerships they don't have," Leonard says.
Update: Kyle Chisek, a Potter aide who has been working on the Scappoose project says he hopes to receive a response from Weston and Freeman as soon as Nov. 14. If that response is positive, Potter's team will then bring the issue back to council, which must approve any land purchase.
Chisek acknowledges that Leonard, Adams and Fish all had questions about the Training Center that went unanswered yesterday. He says Potter plans to meet with each of his colleagues soon address their concerns. As for the commissioners' biggest worry, the lack of regional financial support, Chisek says he hopes that an acceptable proposal from Weston and Freeman will resolve that stumbling block.
"We'll also go back out to the regional partners," Chisek say. "We've been waiting to have something tangible to show them. We decided to nail down the property negotiations first."