Press Release: Eric Fruits, Vice President of Research of Cascade Policy Institute submitted testimony to Metro Council regarding the lax oversight of Metro’s Parks and Nature Program.
January 23, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Eric Fruits, Ph.D.
Thursday, Metro Council will be receiving from staff an annual report on Metro’s Parks and Nature program. Cascade Policy Institute urges the Council reject the Annual Report and demand a revised report that includes details of the program’s skyrocketing administrative costs. In addition, the Council should replace the current members of the Oversight Committee with individuals who have the time, energy, and expertise to provide adequate oversight to the nearly billion dollar Parks and Nature program and Council should provide the new Oversight Committee with the information and staff support necessary for them monitor the Parks and Nature program.
REJECT THE PARKS & NATURE ANNUAL REPORT
In the last fiscal year, Metro spent $42 million on its Parks and Nature program. Yet the annual report provided to Metro Council is only four pages and runs less than 1,400 words with high-res photos making up about one-third of the report. What little information is presented raises more questions than it answers, in particular:
- The Annual Report provides no explanation for skyrocketing administrative costs, which last year account for 30% of total program expenditures. Metro promised taxpayers that administrative costs would be no higher than 10%.
- The Annual Report provides no useful information regarding how many acres were purchased in the past year, where they were purchased, or how much was paid. Previous annual reports provide at least some of this information. Metro Councilors and Metro voters deserve to know how much of their tax dollars are being used to buy land outside of Metro’s jurisdiction and/or outside the Urban Growth Boundary.
- In April 2019, the Oversight Committee requested the Annual Report include information regarding “extra resources (bond proceeds and grants) that helped pay for capital projects at Chehalem, River Island, etc.” The only mention of capital projects in the Annual Report are forward looking promises regarding the proceeds from the 2019 bond measure. The Annual Report has no discussion of Chehalem Ridge nor River Island. The omission of these items specifically requested by the committee demonstrates the Oversight Committee has no sway over Metro staff.
REPLACE THE MEMBERS OF THE PARKS & NATURE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE
Metro council and staff frequently repeat the tired phrase “promises made, promises kept” with respect to their Parks and Nature program—it even makes its way into the most recent Annual Report. One promise made to voters in every Parks and Nature ballot measure since 2006 has been vigorous oversight of the program by a citizen Oversight Committee.
- Beginning with their earliest meetings, Metro staff made clear the committee would be denied key information required and requested to provide oversight. For example, the committee has repeatedly been rebuffed in its efforts to provide oversight on pending land purchases.
- Over the past year, the already weakened Oversight Committee has become a farce. The last time the Oversight Committee met was April 5, 2019, or nearly 10 months ago. This is the longest gap between meetings of the Oversight Committee. At the last meeting only 2 of the 12 committee members were in attendance.
- The Oversight Committee was expected to meet in Summer 2019, with a discussion of the Annual Report to be an agenda item. That meeting was never held and there is no record of the Oversight Committee meeting to review the 2018-19 Annual Report.
The members of the current Oversight Committee should be replaced by individuals who have the time, enthusiasm, and expertise to serve. The newly formed committee must be provided the power—and support from Metro Council and staff—to exercise effective oversight of this billion dollar program.
For more details on Cascade Policy Institute’s recommendations to Metro Council, please read the complete letter below.
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