Oregon Magazine
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Something Rotten in Denmark
Urban Renewal Takes Another Hit:
Activists Blow Whistle
On Troutdale Takeover

  By Fred Delkin

  An attempt by city government to grant itself broad new powers incited a successful voter rebellion in Troutdale this March.   A special election created an overwhelming defeat of a city measure to establish an urban renewal district to function under total control of the Portland suburb’s mayor and city council.
   A feisty Troutdale citizen, Roman York, led a citizens’ effort to collect enough voter signatures to refer somewhat subversively-created city ordinances to a vote of the people via a public ballot measure.  This March 12 Multnomah county referendum on a measure to establish a Troutdale urban renewal agency resulted in over 73% of  those voting saying “no” to the city’s plan.

   York’s activist group “Americans for Honest Government”, rattled cages from Troutdale to Salem, claiming their city government had violated state statutes in passing a pair of ordinances without proper public disclosure or debate.  Ordinance 708 stated that “all of the rights, powers, duties, privileges and immunities granted to an urban renewal agency…shall be exercised by…the City Council,” yet protected the Council from responsibility for any action taken in the name of the urban renewal agency.  Companion ordinance 710 extended the agency’s powers for 25 years and allowed the agency increased taxation and spending powers.

Modeled after PDC

The defeated Troutdale urban renewal plan closely followed the model established by the Portland Development Commission.  The negative aspects of that body’s actions (as well as its accomplishments) are discussed in depth elsewhere in this issue of Oregon Magazine (the Troutdale plan also called for tax increment financing whose misuse by PDC has resulted in a state supreme court action against PDC).
   Activist York has been watching and condemning Troutdale city government actions for some time, dating back to York’s purchase and development of a  residential site in the town’s core.   The city was involved in some very questionable actions regarding York’s property and York loudly blew a whistle that attracted coverage by Portland’s KOIN-TV favoring York’s position and substantiating his complaints.

   Other media entities have not been as supportive. In February,The Oregonian slammed York for “paranoid mud-slinging” over his Voters’ pamphlet statements that questioned the character of Troutdale mayor Paul Thalhofer, who would be “in charge of the public purse and your property rights,” and whose urban renewal agency would enjoy “virtually unlimited powers, privileges and immunity.”

Mayor’s checkered past

   It would seem York may have a point here.  Thalhofer served as an eastern Oregon district court judge, then as mayor of Pendleton in the ‘60’s, before running afoul of the law for writing bad checks, resulting in a state disbarment proceeding aborted by Thalhofer’s resignation from the bar..  Yet the mayor’s pecadillos continued.  He was charged with writing a total of 57 nsf checks between August ’73 and July ’77 and claiming no less than 13 addresses within a year in an apparent attempt to evade creditors.  Complaints against Talhofer, as noted in a state supreme court report, included “mishandling, comingling, misappropriation and conversion of clients’ and trust funds.”
   This makes one wonder why Oregonian MetroEast bureau chief Quinton Smith  rose to Talhofer’s defense in print, questioning why the mayor’s past “is a reason not to trust the council to serve as the city’s urban renewal agency.”  There is no denying the fact that the ordinances the council, led by the mayor, attempted to sneak past the citizenry, could allow misuse of taxpayer dollars and they prevent accountability or oversight.

An education in government control

   York’s devotion to open government stems from his growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia.  “I watched my parents face the loss of liberties generated by corrupt politicians, and that convinced me to avoid state control,” York vehemently declares.  He emigrated to the U.S. when he was 19 and became an airline test pilot at age 23.  More recently, he served as an engineer on the Microsoft Windows software project.  Now semi-retired, York has ample time to devote to his passion for “good government.”  He and his wife Gail have been Troutdale residents since 1995.
   York relates involvement in founding the current Troutdale chamber of commerce, and says he was instrumental in defeating a city government lodging tax proposal.  “I declared that our purpose should be to promote business, not tax it!”  He endorses Troutdale’s claim as a gateway to the Columbia Gorge scenic and recreation area.

Town with promise

   The town, whose population is between eight and fourteen thousand, depending upon which authority you reference, has undergone a radical downtown renaissance in the past decade (without an urban renewal plan!).  Attractive retail business development has supplanted what was becoming a decaying backwater.  The Sandy River abuts the eastern edge of town and is a recreational magnet.
   Thanks to watchful citizens such as York, Troutdale’s natural attributes should continue to encourage a sound economic base without resorting to schemes that threaten a diversion of property tax dollars away from schools and other basic government services to allow ambitious politicians to play footsie with private developers or create impractical projects.

Postscript from Roman York, received 
at Oregon Magazine 4-16-02:

On April 9, 2002,  I communicated a message from our supporters to mayor Thalhofer.  Here are highlights of that message:

This terrible absence of ethics in Troutdale city hall will no longer be tolerated by the voters.  If there is no alteration for better in conduct and ethics,  by the senior staff,  he will be asked to resign. If the city or city council attempts in any way to revive urban renewal , there will be a charter amendment put forward and all city councilors will be subject of severe reprimand. (RECALL )

© 2002 Oregon Magazine

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