Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Disclosing conflict of interest

This post is hard.  It's not just abstract, this stuff gets real.  It's what no one wants to talk about.  But before we go on, we need to decide what kind of government we want here.  Can we do better?

The City of Lake Oswego needs a comprehensive definition of conflict of interest, and some way to monitor situations that pose a threat to the public interest.  It is disturbing to see so many individuals and businesses intertwining their interests with city government.  Not surprising, but it shakes one's confidence and trust in what goes on in City Hall.

Since Lake Oswego has declared itself, "open for business," citizens' interests seem to have fallen to the lower rungs of concern.  It is there of course, but as concerned citizens lobby for their neighborhoods and quality of life issues, it is difficult to know if anyone is listening, or if the
City Council and others have already been persuaded how to think.

It takes a very sharp and committed City Council and City Manager to sift out inappropriate influences and associations and be transparent and open to citizen concerns.

As I write this, I thought about the concept of disclosure to ferret out conflicts of interest one might have before they are able to be involved with the city.  This would seem to be SOP.  But as in the case below, everyone knows what the conflicts are up front, but they sign off on a project or plan anyway.

Take the Southwest Employment Area land use planning project for example.

The Comp Plan calls for an EMPLOYMENT AREA, but as the Stakeholder Advisory Committee does its work, the land uses seem to be expanding into housing, retail, entertainment, athletic, restaurant and bars.  Most of these uses have nothing to do with high-density, high-quality employment, but instead an opening of 100 acres to commercial and mixed-use with residential, walkable streets, etc.  I have not heard the term "vibrant" yet, but this isn't over.

The project starts with the Stakeholder Advisory Committee.   

Here is the problem:  Six out of twelve SAC members are in the real estate business as brokers, investors, or both.  (Click on link to see who is on the SAC.) What kind of land use recommendations will come from people whose livlihood is brokering land sales?  You might see more housing and retail and less manufacturing or offices, even though housing has one of the lowest employee-to-land area ratios of all, and retail and food service have low wages.  There is clearly a conflict of interest for people whose income will rise or fall depending upon the results of the committee recommendations.  One broker, Mike Duyn, lives in Washington and was recruited to be on the committee.  Who is Mike Duyn?

Currently Mike Duyn has at least 2 listings in the SWEA, one that he owns.  He and his clients will make a lot more money with more options for developing their land.  As you can read in the flyer for this listing, Duyn has already predicted the result of the zoning effort for the area; there is less employment and more housing and retail/general commercial than one would expect from someone who is advising about an employment district.  Is this a conflict of interest?   Is this why Duyn was recruited for the job? 

This isn't just about Mike Duyn.  There are 5 other real estate brokers/investors working in LO on the SAC.  And this isn't just about this particular committee.  The selection process itself is worrisome if this is the result.   

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