My last newsletter as a Metro Councilor
Whew! It was almost 12 years ago that I took my first oath of office as Metro Councilor from District 5. Now, I’ve reached my 12 year, 3 term limit and I want to say goodbye and thank you. I’ve had a great time representing you and working to make this an even better place to live. And to make Metro a better agency, providing great service to the more than 5 million people we touch every year through the Oregon Zoo, the Oregon Convention Center, our parks, solid waste services and more.I ran for office because I saw how transportation profoundly affects our lives—for good and sometimes bad. I was Policy Director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance before filing for office and thought that being elected to Metro would expand my ability to help our region become a more sustainable, affordable, safer and friendlier place to live. I love to ride my bike–besides being good for my own personal mental and physical health, I knew that communities where people feel safe on the street–whether walking, biking or driving—are just plain better places to live. As a member of the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (chair for 6 years) and many other state and regional transportation committees, I was able to make good things happen. Now, when I look around the region I see new bike lanes, new light rail lines and new sidewalks. I look at the census numbers that show that people are walking and cycling more than they have in decades. We are also slimmer and healthier because of this. And we have more money in our pockets to spend on things that really count.
While transportation planning can seem wonkish and removed from daily life, what we build and where we build it makes a difference. Done right, it can further our shared values—caring for our families, promoting good health, supporting active, vital neighborhoods and keeping our air and water clean. At Metro, I was able to change how this region chooses transportation projects, creating a principled process based on clear, equitable and shared outcomes rather than politics. In fact, Congress just enacted a new transportation bill that requires every region in the country to use this “performance based” planning we pioneered!
I think it is something in my midwestern upbringing that caused me to look hard at how Metro worked and put the same principles of transparency, accountability and innovation into place. In my short time here, we rewrote Metro’s charter to professionalize management and made fundamental changes in how we ran the Oregon Zoo as well as the Oregon Convention Center, Expo and Portland Center for Performing Arts. We also overhauled our budget processes, winning awards for transparency and ease of understanding from national groups and praises every year from the Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission, a citizen group charged with overseeing the budgets of all governments in Multnomah County. Our AAA bond rating (pdf) — best in the State — is testimony to the hard work of Metro staff and the attentiveness of the Council to good practices.
I’m also proud of my efforts that:
- banned smoking on all Metro properties;
- convinced voters to reject a ballot measure (26-11 in 2002) that would have destroyed this region’s ability to plan for growth;
- brought together many conservation educators in the region to coordinate and expand their work together, resulting in Metro re-thinking its own outreach on issues like recycling, habitat protection and smart commuting. Another great result is a new $10M Regional Conservation Education center to be built at the Oregon Zoo;
- kept Outdoor School programs operating for kids throughout the region with a small fee on landfilled waste;
- re-directed hundreds of millions of dollars to making our communities safer places for our families to walk and bike;
- made preparing for and helping prevent climate change a key part of our growth management and transportation work;
- changed the conversation about growth in this region to one about community aspirations and opportunity (“what do we want to be when we grow up”) instead of about government mandates;
- helped launch The Intertwine, a new regional organization bringing nonprofits and businesses together to protect our nature and encourage citizens to enjoy it more;
- brought together for the first time, elected leaders from the other 5 metropolitan areas in Oregon to work together to solve the challenges of urban growth and transportation;
- led Metro’s efforts to engage an increasingly diverse community through new hiring and engagement practices, leading to a substantial commitment to new equity strategies, and
- provided a voice to citizens who had an idea, or a concern, from toxic substances in the air, to coal trains, to getting Metro Paint for a community project.
I am still amazed by all the opportunities that have been part of my Metro experience, whether planting trees along I-205 with Friends of Trees (4 times!) or speaking in Quito, Guadalajara, or Malaysia on the “Portland Story.” I am thankful for the recognition I’ve received for this work, although I owe my success to many. I was asked to be a Global Ambassador for Ciclovia (very popular in Latin American cities, think Sunday Parkways with up to 1 million people every week!), was named the “Most Effective Elected Official of 2012” by the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations and a “Special Friend of Conservation Education” by the Environmental Education Association of Oregon for my work on Outdoor School. I also got to go to Europe to study how cities there are creating Low Carbon Economies with funding from the German Marshall Fund. Cool stuff! And much fun!
If we are to keep this place a good one—for living, working, raising a family—we must continue to work hard. We face many challenges, not least the disturbingly wide gap between those that have and those that don’t. I will keep working on these issues as Citizen Rex. I urge you to pick an issue and do what you can to change this world for the better.
Thanks again for the opportunity to work for you!