Murmurs: Budget Blues at Development Agency

In other news: Bynum vs. Kotek means a House divided.

A rainy day in downtown. (Wesley Lapointe)

BUDGET BLUES AT DEVELOPMENT AGENCY: Kimberly Branam, executive director of the city's economic development agency Prosper Portland, this week abruptly postponed a long-term budget presentation to the agency's board set for Nov. 18. Prosper Portland has delivered megadeals for the city in the past, including redevelopment of the Pearl District and South Waterfront. It's now in the process of converting the former U.S. Post Office in Northwest Portland and surrounding properties into the Broadway Corridor. But in the presentation scheduled Wednesday, the agency was set to describe a dismal future due to expected fallout from COVID-19—budgets 30% to 70% below its target of $30 million, stretching for the next decade. That could dramatically reduce the city's ability to engage in big developments. An agency spokesman says Branam delayed the presentation and will refine the numbers and bring them back in January.

A HOUSE DIVIDED: In a move that could split the Democratic caucus in the Oregon House of Representatives, Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas) is taking her bid to become the next speaker of the House to a floor vote. Calling for a break with precedent, Bynum says she wants a public vote rather than allowing the position to be filled in a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting. "For too long, old 'traditions' and 'customs' have prevented people who don't come from traditional political backgrounds or communities of color from successfully challenging the status quo and leading with their truth," Bynum says. On Nov. 16, Kotek, who ran unopposed, received the nomination of a majority of her caucus but not the 31-vote majority necessary to be elected on the floor without a challenge. For Bynum to win, she will have to cut a deal with at least 23 Republican members of the House and convince at least seven Democrats to vote against Kotek. In a statement, Kotek, who became House speaker in 2013, argued for experienced leadership: "As we head into the 2021 session, we are facing a global pandemic, high unemployment, a billion-dollar budget hole, an expensive wildfire recovery, a severe housing shortage, and the everyday harm of systemic racism. All of these crises require urgent action and experienced leadership."

FACEBOOK SECURITY FIRM BUSTED: G4S Secure Solutions, a Florida-based contractor that provides security guards at Facebook's facilities in Prineville, agreed this week to pay five current and former employees a total of $595,000 for racial discrimination on the job. All five are Hispanic. In complaints filed with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the five alleged that beginning in 2017, they were treated differently and worse than white guards because of their ethnicity, demoted and assigned unfair schedules, and often referred to as the "Mexican Mafia." In addition to the monetary settlement, G4S agreed to improve its training and harassment policies. "The actions of the former supervisors are not representative of the hard-working men and women of G4S," the company said in a statement. "It's illegal to be treated differently or subjected to harassment because of your race, sex or national origin," Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle said. "Five Oregonians have received justice for the discrimination they experienced."

DOJ CRACKS DOWN ON COVID SCAMS: The Oregon Department of Justice announced Nov. 17 it had agreed to monetary settlements with four local businesses accused of price gouging and scams during the COVID-19 pandemic. The settlements ranged from $12,500 to $21,500, with the largest amount paid by the convenience store chain Plaid Pantry for selling 9,000 four-packs of face masks marked up to "unconscionably excessive prices." The DOJ also reached settlements with two businesses that made unfounded product claims related to COVID-19, including a company called Live Your Colour Inc., which claimed its silk socks could protect against the virus, and a Bend skin care company called Sher Ray that advertised an aromatherapy diffuser blend, "Respiratory Remedy," as a possible cure for COVID-19. "As Oregonians continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, these actions are a reminder that as your AG, I will not tolerate price gouging and other unconscionable trade practices," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said Tuesday. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to the co-owner of WW's parent company.)

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