By Nancy Tannler
When Mark Bartlett first requested access to legal opinions and documents from the City Attorney back in 2015, he never imagined it would take five years, four Freedom of Information Act charges, and going to court and being sued by The City to finally receive justice. He won his case in the Court of Appeals June 10, with a 9-3 vote in his favor.
The reason this is an important court decision is that it confirms what Bartlett believed were several violations committed by the Portland Water Bureau (PWB), the Bureau of Developmental Services (BDS), the City Attorney and City Council when they rushed to disconnect reservoirs one, five and six back in 2016 and reservoirs three and four in Washington Park.
The documents he requested detailed property ownership records on Mt. Tabor. At this time, there were 51 individual parcels of land 26 percent owned by PWB and the rest by Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R).
When PWB submitted their application to the BDS, they did not provide what Bartlett saw as legal documentation proving clear and unencumbered titles to parcels of land in Mt. Tabor Park but instead went ahead as if the parcels were one piece of property commingling funds between the dissimilar bureaus.
According to an inner office memo written at the time by Dan Coombs to Dennis Kessler (both PWB employees) “…there is no ‘commingling’ of parcel ownership’s on Mt. Tabor. Any impression of one indivisibly City ownership is a misconception.” This is in accordance to City Charter FIN 6.11 and is further confirmed by the requested legal opinions.
The documents Bartlett requested detailed how bureaus can spend funds and not commingle assets. Technically the City owns everything, but PWB and PP&R are two completely separate bureaus; one is supported by rate-payer funds and the other by general fund tax revenue. It is different money that is not supposed to be commingled.
On Mt. Tabor, the tax assessor combined the 51 individual parcels into two. The larger one was used by PWB for the disconnect project.
Tax assessor consolidation of lots does not make the plat maps legal for land use purposes. Had there been a legal consolidation of parcels, there would be a time and a date stamped on a recorded copy by the County, who by law, is the keeper of such records. This was not in evidence.
Bartlett submitted four Freedom of Information Act requests for records related to deed and title or ownership in the two parks and was denied any meaningful response.
He was repeatedly refused access to these public documents that would show in these Land Use reviews that PWB, BDS and City Council knowingly violated the City Charter, title 33 and ORS statutes.
Instead the City refused to acknowledge this information and sued him to block this disclosure and hold him up in court.
Five years later, after spending time and money defending himself, Bartlett’s request for these legal documents has been approved.
When The Southeast Examiner asked PWB about this issue, Commissioner Amanda Fritz said, “The case is still in active litigation so we have no comment.”
According to Bartlett, they are appealing to Oregon’s Supreme Court.
Bartlett believes that the release of these legal opinions will confirm that the City violated their own Charter by not complying with their own laws and rules.
He would like them to be accountable for how they spent taxpayer funds in the past and to compel compliance with the Charter in any future land use by the City.