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Nick Fish

Commissioner, City of Portland

phone: 503-823-3589

Email: nick@portlandoregon.gov

1221 S.W. 4th, Room 240, Portland, OR 97204

Commissioner Fish's Statement on Settling the Ratepayer Lawsuit

December 20, 2017

I inherited both utility bureaus four and a half years ago. I was the first Commissioner since Dan Saltzman to lead both.

There is logic behind this pairing since we send a combined water, sewer, and stormwater utility bill to our customers.

When I took over, the Water Bureau in particular was generating significant controversy. In my first year, we witnessed:

   • A ballot measure, 26-156, that sought to strip the City of the utilities and create an independent water district.
   • Continued challenges to federal regulations, like LT2, that impacted our historic reservoirs.
   • Ongoing concerns about the use of ratepayer funds.

Four and a half years later, we’ve made significant progress:

   • We have new leadership at both bureaus.
   • We sharpened our focus on basic services and spending ratepayer dollars wisely.
   • The proposed water district was defeated in May of 2014 with 72% of the vote.
   • We worked with the community on a path forward for both the Mt. Tabor and Washington Park reservoirs, embracing community-led visions.
   • We appointed a Blue-Ribbon Commission, chaired by Dwight Holton, which led to the creation of the Portland Utility Board.
   • We forged the first-ever partnership between a city and the Oregon Citizen's Utility Board, adding additional oversight.
   • This Council recently made a historic decision to protect the Bull Run Watershed for the next hundred years by choosing to filter our water.
   • And, just this week, the City and the Oregon Health Authority entered into a regulatory agreement that will give us 10 years to build the filtration facility.

Today, we close out the last chapter of the water wars.

Both the City Attorney and CFO recommend that we accept this proposed settlement, which represents a fraction of the money plaintiffs originally sought.

Significantly, because the case will be dismissed with prejudice, it preserves our understanding of what the Charter does and doesn’t provide.

We continue to believe that City Council, not a judge, is best suited to make decisions about our utilities.

By accepting this settlement, we’re turning the page and moving forward.

Thanks to Sonia Schmanski and Todd Lofgren on my team; Tracy Reeve and Karen Moynahan in the City Attorney’s Office; Ken Rust, our CFO; and Mike Stuhr, Gabe Solmer, and the many bureau staff members who worked tirelessly throughout this process.

Although some may view this settlement as anticlimactic, the lawsuit has had a positive effect in refocusing City leadership on the core mission of the utilities.

I vote “Aye.”

Background

Council Ordinance - Item 1382

 

City Attorney Karen Moynahan - Introductory Remarks

 

Joint Press Release - December 15, 2017

Media

Fish: $10 Million Utility Settlement Ends the "Water Wars"

Jim Redden in the Portland Tribune

 

Portland Council Approves $10 Million Utility Lawsuit Settlement

Ericka Cruz Guevarra in OPB News

 

Hall Monitor: Scoff Medicine

Dirk VanderHart in the Portland Mercury

 

Portland Settles Utility Lawsuit Alleging Improper Spending For $10 Million

Amelia Templeton in OPB News

 

City of Portland Reaches $10 Million Settlement on Long-Running Litigation Over Water Bureau Spending

Nigel Jaquiss in Willamette Week

 

Council Expected to Pay $10 Million to Settle Utility Suit Wednesday

Jim Redden in the Portland Tribune

 

Portland prepared to pay $10 million for misspending water ratepayer funds

Jessica Floum in The Oregonian