Panel views ABCs of PDC

Pendleton's urban renewal district includes the downtown area south of the Umatilla River, stretching nearly the length of the city. A six-member committee began meeting this week to explore whether City Manager Larry Lehman should act as executive director of the Pendleton Development Commission.<BR><I>EO file photo/E.J. Harris</i>

They seem like simple questions:?Should Pendleton City Manager Larry Lehman also act as executive director of the?Pendleton Development Commission? If not, who??And to whom should that person answer?

A six-member group began the process of answering those Monday, gathering for the first time before it plans to report to the next PDC meeting Oct. 20.

Committee member Susan Bower made at least one objective clear during the hour-long meeting.

"Wherever we end up, there has to be partnership and cooperation between the city and the urban renewal program,"?Bower said.

She also stressed the importance of having a clearly focused goal for urban renewal.

"I don't see that now,"?Bower said. "And I think this is an opportunity to make that happen."

The PDC, which started meeting in 2004, is charged with allocating the city's urban renewal dollars. But the group only consists of all eight city councilors, with Lehman acting as executive director. That's led to lingering question of how much separation should exist between the PDC and other city operations.

The PDC?itself took up the topic at last week's regular meeting, introduced by Chairman Steve Taylor. He questioned whether Lehman's position presents a conflict of interest. Ultimately, a six-member committee - including three city councilors - was formed to take a harder look at the issue.

The meeting Monday mostly avoided specific stances. Rather, attendees tossed around the questions they'd like answered, and how to answer them. Members will spend the next week calling dozens of other cities with urban renewal programs, feeling out what's common, what works, and what doesn't.

Approaches differ elsewhere, but a 2007 list compiled by the Oregon Urban Renewal Agency Administration found many cities do it Pendleton's way - 26 agencies function with a city manager or city administrator at the helm. That's more than any other model, according to the list.

Others place a separate person in charge of urban renewal. Some report back to their city managers, but at least two urban renewal agencies - Portland and Medford - operate entirely separate from city government.

Kurt Olsen has seen multiple perspectives. He used to be involved with Medford's independent urban renewal program in the 1990s. But Olsen now serves as Lincoln City's urban renewal director, working under the city manager there.

"I basically function as another department of the city,"?he said.

Each model has its advantages and drawbacks, said Olsen, a past president of the Association of Oregon Redevelopment Agencies. While a separate setup like Medford's assures independence, he said, "it wasn't the greatest relationship between the city manager and the urban renewal director."

And having a city manager in charge of urban renewal often demands more time than that person has available, Olsen said.

Lehman estimated last week he spends about 10 percent of his working time on Pendleton's urban renewal program. That prompted concern from a handful of committee members Monday.

Olsen said he prefers putting urban renewal outside a city manager's direct responsibilities.

"I'm a big advocate for having a professional, or someone in charge of the urban renewal program,"?he said. "The city manager is dealing with tons of stuff, and urban renewal is not tops on his list, or her list."

Pendleton committee member Justin Burns said Monday he views an urban renewal director as something of a "fundraiser,"?out in the public eye. Bower cited The Dalles - which runs urban renewal with a separate director, within city government - several times as a success story.

Should Pendleton put someone else in charge of its urban renewal program, it's unclear if that person would work under Lehman, as with most cities' models. PDC and committee member Dan Ceniga said that's not specifically written into Pendleton's charter.

The committee plans to meet again Monday, Oct. 5.

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