Mark Gamba, mayor of Milwaukie, admits that his city isn’t immune to the ravages of homelessness.
Just as in Portland, its much larger neighbor to the north, prices are rising in Milwaukie, and more people are struggling to stay in their houses and apartments. Mental illness and substance abuse plague his 21,000 citizens, just as in Portland.
But Milwaukie is faring better than Portland because it has a more efficient form of government. Professionals manage Milwaukie’s city agencies, unlike in Portland, where elected members of the City Council oversee them.
“You’ve got people running departments who have zero background, zero education in that thing,” Gamba said this week. “That’s a crazy form of government.”
For example, when former City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly took office in 2017, she had no experience in transportation, Gamba said, but she was given the Portland Bureau of Transportation to run in 2018. Gamba sat down with her for three hours, he said, and tried to help.
“She had nothing,” Gamba said.
Gamba offered his remarks during an endorsement interview with WW’s editorial board for the Oregon House District 41 seat, soon to be vacated by Rep. Karin Power (D-Milwaukie). Term limits prevent Gamba from running for mayor of Milwaukie a third time. He says he considered running in the primary against U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) but begged off after determining that Jamie McLeod-Skinner would have a better chance of winning because of her popularity in and around Bend.
Gamba described a more functional approach to homelessness and trash in Milwaukie.
City officials try to connect every homeless person to services, Gamba says. A medic in the fire department treats people’s illnesses and helps with medication. The city’s public works department cleans up trash from homeless camps.
Portland’s structural problems are compounded by Mayor Ted Wheeler’s lack of leadership, Gamba said.
“I hate to speak ill of another mayor, but Ted is in over his head,” Gamba said.
The City of Portland is considering changes to its form of government. On March 31, the 20-member Charter Review Commission rolled out a three-part proposal that suggests how the city’s government should look different in the future. The panel suggested getting rid of the current commission form of government in which all five members of the council are elected at large, citywide, and each has significant responsibilities to manage city bureaus.
“I hope you guys get that passed so you get back to a sane form of government,” Gamba said.
Watch the full exchange: