Portland City Council has officially agreed to a $10 million settlement in a lawsuit alleging misspending of ratepayer dollars by the city’s Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services, a settlement that Commissioner Nick Fish said closes out “the last chapter of the water wars.”
“By accepting this settlement we’re turning the page and moving forward,” Fish said of the case, which spanned six years and three mayors.
The city will transfer $7 million from its general fund to the utility fund. The remaining $3 million will pay for the plaintiffs’ legal fees no later than Dec. 29 this year.
The lawsuit alleged illegal spending by the Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services between 1998 and the early 2000s.
It alleged illegal spending on several projects pursued by former Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard, who oversaw the utility bureaus and challenged the city’s spending on top environmental priorities, including green infrastructure and pollution cleanup.
None of the current city councilors in attendance for a vote Wednesday were in office when the lawsuit was filed. Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who was not present at Wednesday’s council meeting, was elected to council in 1998.
“We can’t go back to the early 2000s and correct some of the missteps that were made,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler.
“Nobody’s happy with the settlement,” Wheeler added, saying he agreed with city lawyers that it could have been worse.
“I think there’s significant risk with continuing to fight this. But I have come to the conclusion, as apparently as have all of my colleagues, that this is the lowest risk, lowest cost solution that gets this mess behind us and will allow Commissioner Fish or his successor commissioners to do the work that needs to be done in the bureaus.”
The city has until Sept. 30, 2019, to transfer the $7 million to the utilities. That $7 million represents less than 1 percent of the utilities’ combined annual budget.