Willamette Weak: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mr. Nigel J. Jaquiss

Willamette Weak: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mr. Nigel J. Jaquiss

Eileen Brady, co-founder of New Seasons Market

By Russ Casler of Portland, Oregon. Russ is an aide to Rep. Chris Garrett. Last summer, he worked for Eileen Brady's campaign for Mayor. He speaks only for himself.

In an article titled "Extra Seasoning: Records Raise Questions About Eileen Brady's New Seasons Résumé," published in the January 18th edition of Willamette Week, local journalist Nigel Jaquiss investigates the role that mayoral candidate Eileen Brady played in the founding of Portland's landmark grocery chain, New Seasons Market, alongside her husband, Brian Rohter, and "two other families and many friends."

Mr. Jaquiss, whose previous articles I have read and generally respected for their thorough vetting, makes several dubious assertions in this exposé which deserve redress. His own investigation reveals answers to the initial questions he raises, yet he fails (intentionally or otherwise) to come to the most basic conclusions; Ms. Brady's true role in New Seasons' founding left seemingly in doubt.

First, let me start with Ms. Brady's own disclaimer: "I was never on the payroll." Ms. Brady later clarifies in her response to the article:

"Like many couples who launch start-up businesses, we did it at our kitchen table, and one of us (me) kept a day job while the other (Brian) took on the full-time role."

But as Mr. Jaquiss rightly points out, the term "co-founder" is a nebulous one. So let's look at how Ms. Brady defines her role: "she conducted focus groups, acted as company spokeswoman, wrote the New Seasons’ employee manual, established the company’s health insurance program and even helped edit headlines and copy for the store’s ads." These responsibilities were a natural extension of Ms. Brady's experience as HR Director of Nature's Fresh Northwest prior to the formation of New Seasons.

It's critical to point out at this point that these claims by Ms. Brady are never refuted in the article.

To the contrary, past New Seasons' employees and Mr. Rohter, New Seasons' previous CEO, confirm her significance. Even Lisa Sedlar, New Seasons' current CEO, stated "New Seasons would not be New Seasons if Eileen had not contributed so greatly."

Mr. Jaquiss remains silent on this, and instead changes tack and focuses on Ms. Brady's financial involvement in New Seasons' founding viz. the limited corporate financial records available to the public (New Seasons remains a privately held company). OLCC filings "show just three original investors in the business: Stan Amy, Chuck Eggert and Rohter." Mr. Rohter explains that the omission of Ms. Brady's name was intended "to shield Brady from any potential liability should New Seasons fail. He says he always considered any money he put into the company a joint investment with his wife, and says most of their initial investment came from her savings." This is just a savvy business move. If New Seasons went under and incurred substantial debt, Ms. Brady's personal (and, by extension, part of their family's) assets would be protected.

Mr. Jaquiss then quibbles with Ms. Brady's assertion that she and Mr. Rohter "risked [their] entire life savings…to start New Seasons Market," citing the couple's initial investment of $220,000 relative to net assets totaling $712,000. I'm guessing Mr. Jaquiss never took BA 101 in college, or he would have learned that the majority of most Americans' net assets are tied up in their home. Subtract additional considerations for investments locked into retirement or college funds, coupled with a nominal checking account, and it's not unreasonable to deduce that their savings amounted to roughly $220,000. This sum translated to 11% of the entire initial investment to found New Seasons Market, "a figure [Rohter] and Brady say grew over the years."

So let me ask this:

If someone invests their not-insignificant life savings into a company's genesis, designs that company's employee manual, establishes that company's benefits package, works on early advertising and copy for the company, and acts as the company's representative/spokesperson for several years -- if that person is NOT considered one of said company's co-founders, Mr. Jaquiss, who is?

I understand it's difficult to sell newspapers these days, I really do. People don't want mundane truth, they demand controversy and catchy headlines -- so-called "gotcha journalism." In such an environment, it can be very tempting to cut corners in the pursuit of a lead. But it doesn't give Mr. Jaquiss the right to spin fictions and print quasi-libelous claims about a local small business owner. It's irresponsible and lazy at best, and at worst, as Mr. Rohter implies, it suggests an undercurrent of sexism.

Would we be asking these questions if the founding CEO had been a woman, her husband instrumental in their company's founding (though retaining his day job to ensure a stable income as their new project got started) and claiming that experience as part of his résumé for public office? I doubt it.

Sorry, Nigel, but you should know better.

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      Paulie, there is a difference between a family business like what your parents did and a business with multiple partners and investors. Once you bring in investors that file their own tax returns much changes. That is not to say that the spouses and others did not help out.

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      "I even smelled a whiff of sexism..."

      I don't smell it from Nigel J., but I definitely smell it from Rohter (as others have pointed out).

      It would be sexist if Nigel called Brady a bored millionaire's wife and a dilettante. But he stopped well short of that.

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        As far as the law is concerned, she didn't invest a dime, because she's not listed as an investor (based on what I understood from the piece). Rohter makes clear he intentionally shielded her from risk. If NS went belly up and the officers were charged with fraud and civil suits were pending aplenty, Ms. Brady could simply walk away from it all. That's not having any risk. If one of her decisions during that time had gone horribly bad, how could she be held accountable? She had no titles to strip, no salary to reduce, no consequences of any kind. That's not having responsibility, strictly speaking.

        The point is that we're trying to evaluate fitness for executive office. Executive office involves formal responsibility, and lots of internal and external risk. So the intent in examining the NS record is to evaluate how that experience qualifies one for Mayor. Perhaps you think it does. Fair enough.

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            So if I buy $200,000 worth of lottery tickets, based on the monetary risk I incurred, that's a qualification for office?

            According to filings it wasn't her money; she'd given a gift to her husband. It was Rphter's money when it was invested...otherwise she'd legally be required to be listed as an investor, yes? She was out the money the minute she handed it over, as far as the business was concerned. Any returns would be by the grace of her husband--as he intended, apparently.

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              According to filings it wasn't her money; she'd given a gift to her husband.

              On the law and the accounting, you are wrong.

              They were married. Legally speaking, there is zero difference between her income and assets and his income and assets.

              You've lost all perspective. Again.

              (Jeff Merkley was totally a corporate sell-out, right?)

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                Whether they're married or not, according to the state she had no money invested in the business. That was verified by Rohter, who said she was intentionally shielded from investor risk. If you're saying it IS specifically her money invested, then there are some potentially serious problems with the documents filed.

                But hey, nice try at the ad hominem. It's not the facts, it's me.

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                  Mark, it was other assets she had that were shielded from investor risk, apparently. If we were to delve into the Brady/Rohter family finances, it looks as if we would find that assets were divided in some way to shield some of them from the exposure that partnership creates. If so that would make Kari's marital property argument wrong I suppose, but not the underlying human relationships. Eileen Brady, whom I do not support for mayor, had a lot of skin in the game of founding New Seasons and I don't object to her claim and do think that Jaquiss, like you, is splitting hairs. Your motives are clearer than his.

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        that's "TJ" Kari. i'm T.A.

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    What I found most interesting about the WWeek piece is the tidbit that Rohter cashed out of New Seasons in 2009 for a healthy $11.2 million, while at the same time negotiating a sale of a majority stake in the business to a private capital firm.

    Not only is Brady the million-dollar candidate, she is herself a multi-millionaire.

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            A handful of upper management and administrative jobs is a lot different than a couple thousand line-level jobs, which is the implied claim. You're grasping at straws if that's all you've got.

            Of course all of the "job creator" nonsense just obscures the real question: How does whatever Brady did vis-a-vis New Seasons/Nature's translate into public policy that actually spurs job growth in Portland? There's really no relation, at least not if understand basic economics and you're honest about it.

            It really just comes down to GOP talking points about understanding business and blah blah blah. But it's different, because Brady's "progressive!" (Yeah, right.)

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          Doesn't your point assume that the population of the Portland Metro area remained static during New Seasons' creation and expansion? The assumption is implicit that

          Have a significant number of Kroger (Fred Meyers) and Safeway stores closed or laid off large numbers of people to cover their business losses to New Seasons?

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            Well, the New Seasons on SE Tacoma used to be a Thriftway and before that Kenow's (sp?) a more local small chain, not sure if they were unionized.

            The New Seasons on Hawthorne replaces an older and funkier health food store in the same vicinity, now gone.

            The Trader Joe's on SE Cesar E Chavez used to be a bad-smelling Albertson's. This is only relevant to the market turnover argument.

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          Steve: The whole question of how the public should account for "job creation" effects from public policy and private action is a good one.

          The Oregon House Republicans, for example, have put out a "jobs plan" that would hack away at state government, give giant tax breaks, and then claims the "jobs created" from the tax breaks without counting the "jobs killed" from the state government cuts.

          So, yeah, it's complicated.

          But I think it's worth noting that the whole New Seasons Market concept is dependent upon high-touch customer service. That's why there's always someone around to help customers. That's why there's rarely long lines at the check stands. (I've never stood around waiting for someone to show up at my local NSM, but happens all the time at Safeway and Fred's.)

          I have no idea, but I'm guessing the ratio of employees to customers at New Seasons has to be double or even triple most other local grocery stores.

          So does NSM shift customers away from other grocers? Yes.

          But does it also create jobs? It has to. And that's not even counting the fact that the headquarters - and all those administrative jobs - are here in Portland, instead of Cincinnati, OH or Pleasanton, CA.

          And that's not even counting the fact that they've built a market for local meat, produce, and other markets that clearly far exceeds what the big multinational grocery firms do.

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            "But does it also create jobs? It has to."

            Show me the numbers. Economics is empirical. Hand waving is meaningless.

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              I think that's the point I was trying to make... Show Me The Numbers that grocery purchases remained static during the period that New Seasons came online.

              Show Me The Numbers that New Seasons simply replaced jobs at other markets because if that's not the case then they did IN FACT create new jobs.

              I don't know whether I'm voting for Brady or Smith yet, but I'm really tired of some of the sloppiness of the criticisms I see leveled at her.

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                we do recognize that portland's population keeps growing & that NS is one of the businesses providing jobs for people -- and some of the better jobs for people without high-end skills? when we protest the Walmarts & the big boxes, isn't NS one of the businesses we think of as a local alternative?

                someone was going to fill the grocery niche in Pdx. Eileen et al made sure it was NS, and she made sure the jobs that were provided paid well & had medical benefits for ALL employees.

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          i was working for Wild Oats when New Seasons got started; i had been part-time at Nature & got passed along to WO. part of the reason people like Brian & Stan Amy started NS (so went the industry scuttlebutt back then) was in protest to Wild Oats (which was a really crappy corporation & deserved to go belly-up and be eaten by Whole Foods).

          was Nature's unionized? nope. i don't recall that stopping people from loving them. is People's Co-op unionized? that would also be a no -- and, as most food co-ops do, it uses "free" labor to replace paid workers. yes, it's a different story in a co-op (i've been a member, a worker & a board member in various food co-ops), but the point is: NOT unionized.

          but because Eileen (for whose campaign i work part-time) & Brian have been an American success story & gotten rich, she's a bad guy? she's not hiding her money in the Caymans, and she's not riding the gravy train. she's putting her ass on the line running for mayor. i suppose that's for the wealth & the glory that have always been part of the job.

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            TA, I don't see what the utility is in bringing up the Peoples' Co-op here. But even if there were any utility, your comments are factually wrong. The co-op does not rely on free labor. In fact, it employs full-time, paid employees in a collective management structure. While this means employees work on a consensus basis as a team, in no way does it mean anyone's working for free. This is the same sort of nonsense people like to gin up in arguments over union vs. worker-owned.

            Full disclosure: I volunteer with Friends of Trees, work within 300 feet of the Oregon House of Representatives and sometimes shop at New Seasons. I have not supported nor endorsed any candidate in this race and am quite frankly appalled at the lack of substance in the campaigns for Portland's next mayor. I would appreciate it if the petty sniping could give way to genuine discussions about the future of our city.

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          Logan -- First, great to see you tonight.

          Second, I support unions. But the reason I support unions is because they create better wages, benefits, and working conditions for workers.

          I'm honestly ignorant here -- can you share an example of a way in which New Seasons Market employees have worse wages, benefits, or working conditions than, say, Fred Meyer's?

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            Just came across this very long and anonymous comment over at Willamette Week. If it's all accurate, it paints a pretty good picture of how NSM treats their employees. (I added bullets for readability.)

            I work for New Seasons and have worked previously at three other stores, including a unionized store. The most anti-union store was the unionized store.

            New Seasons is non-union because management feels that the best way to have good labor relations is to treat the workers well without a union in between.

            • New Seasons offers employees a much better deal than the unon employees get. The pay scale is a lot better.

            • New Seasons pays 80% of the medical/dental plan for employees who work more than 20 hours a week and 50% for those who work at least eight hours per week, including for domestic partners and even the domestic partner's kids. The union stores don't provide health insurance to part time employees (less than 80 hours per month) and don't provide any insurance for domestic partners.

            • New Seasons offers employees a 20% discount, while Safeway, for example, allows employees a 5% discount on Safeway brand merchandise only.

            • Vacation accruals are the same as the union stores during the first seven years, but after seven years New Seasons employees get four weeks while the union stores get four weeks after twelve years.

            • New Seasons employees are allowed to take home scratch and dent merchandise for free while at Safeway employees get nothing. Everything is either donated or goes into the dumpster.

            • New Seasons employees get five sick days a year, which can be used on the first day of an illness. The union stores don't allow sick pay until you've been out three days and then they make you go to the doctor.

            • New Seasons offers profit sharing while the union stores don't.

            • New Seasons makes an effort to promote nice people while many unionized stores are notorious for having jerks in management.

            • New Seasons doesn't count employees late until five minutes after the scheduled start of the shift. Employees who come to work within the five minute window without calling in sick for six months are awarded a paid day off. The union store I worked for would sometimes write employees up for being even one minute late and did not award extra vacation days for perfect attendance.

            • New Seasons has what they call "life style scheduling". Employees are given a set schedule they can count on and managers are very accomodating if an employee needs an extra day off or needs to switch a day. The union store I worked for changed schedules weekly, which is standard in the industry. Work weeks ran from Saturday to Friday. According to the union contract, the schedule was supposed to be up 72 hours before the start of the work week, which means Wednesday a.m., but they wouldn't put it up until Thursday afternoon. So for any given weekend, I wouldn't know what my shifts were until Thursday afternoon. If I was off Thursday, I had to come in and look because the store owner didn't like employees who were on the clock telling other employees over the phone what their schedule was.

            • The only thing that is slightly better at the union stores is holiday pay. The union employees get paid for holidays whether they work or not and get time and a half if they do work. New Seasons employees get paid double time if they work the holiday, but nothing if they don't unless it's one of the two holidays we're closed, Christmas and Thanksgiving, in which case we get paid for not working.

            What really matters to employees is how we're treated. It's a lot better to work in a place like New Seasons that prefers to be non-union but has a very pro-worker attitude than it is to work in a unionized store that is hostile to workers.

            What sums it up the best is that when I started at New Seasons, I had a day long orientation during which I was given Brian Rohter's and Eileen Brady's home phone number and was urged to call if I had any problems. At the union store I worked at, an employee pointed out the store owner and told me under his breath to just try and stay out of his way.

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              Way to stick to the campaign script, Kari. The ol' "I love unions, but..."

              I can't believe we have to do "Collective Bargaining 101" here.

              Unions aren't just about wages, benefits and working conditions. Unions are fundamentally about workplace democracy.

              Without unions, there is no protection for seniority, or from capricious management decisions on promotions, firings and discipline, which can easily be based on race, religion, gender, age, etc.

              Anecdotes from happy NSM employees, no matter how many you dig up, do not speak to this. Beneficiaries of so called "meritocracy" (frequently generously seasoned with elements of ass-kiss-ocracy) are its greatest proponents.

              But this is all moot anyway, since Brady was never on the NSM payroll or board and currently holds less than 1% ownership stake.

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                Yeah, I made sure to note that it was anonymous.

                But it was also chock-full of specifics (along with some rough opinions). I'm confident that if the hard facts in there are flat wrong, someone will correct them.

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                  Oh, and who is making "digs at unions", unsubstantiated or otherwise? Haven't seen any here...

                  A bunch of digs at management in that long anonymous post, but not the union.

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                  Specifics that would carry weight with me would be bullet points that someone credible had put together with two things in hand: a Fred Meyer employee handbook and a New Seasons handbook.

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            Great to see you too.

            I'll start with the disclaimer that my first job, much like Eileen, was working in a grocery store for around minimum wage. I pushed carts at Fred Meyer all during my time in college, and was a member and shop steward for UFCW 555.

            I think Steve pretty much covered this in his response to you, but to reiterate:

            Someone could probably write a book in answer to your question. But I'll keep it brief.

            Unions are not simply about the details of the contract--they're about the right to have that contract in the first place, and the rights that the contract represents. As Steve said, it's about workplace democracy.

            Union workers have the right to due process and union representation in disciplinary matters. Non-union workers are "at-will" employees who can be fired or otherwise disciplined at any time, for almost any reason.

            Furthermore, at New Seasons, nothing prevents the private capital firm who now owns a majority stake of the company from implementing across-the-board wage and benefit cuts, with no input from the workers.

            If New Seasons wanted to cut everybody's salary down to minimum wage, they could it tomorrow. The workers would have zero rights in that situation.

            For workers with a union contract, any wage and benefit changes that management wants to impose must be bargained, with input from the workers. Workers in non-union shops like New Seasons have no such protection.

            Further, if a manager at New Seasons wanted to target a specific employee for a wage and benefit cut, they could do that. Union workers are protected from the ability of management to single people out, or play favorites.

            I can't speak to the wages and working conditions at New Seasons. But I can say that the workers there have FAR fewer rights and protections than workers at a unionized grocery store.

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              Those are all fair points. The contractual protections afforded by a union contract are important.

              That said, I've been reacting to folks who've been arguing that New Seasons Market is some kind of evil-doer in the marketplace.

              I don't think that's accurate. From everything I've heard, they treat their workers very well. And I think they should be commended for that, not criticized for it.

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      you're right. there should be a checkbox for "My spouse may run for public office one day; please be sure to include his/her name as an official founder of this business."

      are you paying the slightest attention? by having the paperwork include the least financially vulnerable member of the family, they protect their further assets. this is evil? please feel free to lie to us & tell us how you'd gladly & unnecessarily risk your family's future for no good reason at all.

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        It has nothing to do with running for office, it has to do with the law. The paperwork specifically requires that everyone be listed, regardless of whether you want to shield them or not. Leaving them off is illegal, can cost you a lot of money, and get your liquor license revoked. This isn't about politics, campaigns, etc., it is about the law and what that form required. That form doesn't let you pick and choose who should be listed, it says everyone. No exceptions.

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          I don't recommend assuming that a couple of sentences and an out-of-context quote in a WW article gives you a rounded picture of the relevant law and the facts at issue.

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            Do the comments from OCLC this morning as reported by WW, give us a more rounded picture? Because they believe anyone who is substantially involved in operational decisionmaking for the licensed business, should be licensed.

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    And for the record, I don't think self-identifying as "co-founder" is unreasonable at all, and it's clear there was a lot of work done off the books, so to speak, that significantly contributed to the growth and success of New Seasons. And while I may think the shielding comment has some paternalistic qualities to it, there's no question Ms. Brady is a highly capable businesswoman, for-profit or non-. Work at EcoTrust, Nature's Northwest and in her tech economy life all speak to that. But those haven't been made the centerpiece of the campaign, NS has. So I think it's valid to examine the implications of her role(s) in that particular business.

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    It's funny to see the Brady camp get so defensive about this minor piece. It seems like the race is Brady's to lose, what with a couple of feckless opponents and an evidently bottomless war chest.

    Dig the language, like "gotcha journalism." Do they really think they need to resort to the Sarah Palin defense? It says something about character to get so defensive when called out on duplicity.

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      Ordinarily I wouldn't respond to trolls, but this comment caught my eye. You'll notice, Steve, that I used the phrase "so-called 'gotcha journalism'." Like you, I'm not enamored with that phrase (or it's notorious origin), but for better or worse it has entered the public's lexicon to describe a kind of cheap journalism. In this case, it describes Mr. Jaquiss's intent on pursuing a hypothesis – that Ms. Brady is lying by calling herself a co-founder of New Seasons – in the face of significant evidence to the contrary (that he himself uncovers).

      If you prefer I call it a "hatchet piece" instead of "so-called 'gotcha journalism'" I have no problem with that.

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    Mark writes: there sure is a lot of urgent pushback happening over an article that's apparently "much ado about nothing."

    Steve writes: It's funny to see the Brady camp get so defensive about this minor piece.

    First, I'm not sure there's a lot of "urgent pushback". Eileen wrote a letter to the editor at WW, and there was an email to her supporters. I'd say that's a perfectly calibrated amount of response. This item, by a former staffer, was unsolicited by the campaign.

    Second, it's basic Campaigns 101 to make sure you respond to every accusation or insinuation. Even if the story looks like ridiculous bulls--t. Has it been that long since John Kerry and the Swiftboats?

    Even on face value, this article isn't anything near as damning as that stuff; but John Kerry isn't finishing out his second term as president today in part because his team thought those accusations were so ridiculous that they wouldn't bother setting the record straight.

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      The elephant in the room, though is the idea that government should be "run like a business" or emulate "my family budget". Both are simplistic in the extreme and largely inaccurate.

      Agreed. Good thing I've never heard Eileen Brady claim any such thing.

      The closest she's ever come is saying that the Portland development services folks ought to be more customer-service oriented.

      To borrow an example from a friend, it's completely ridiculous that a bar owner has to bring a copy of his OLCC license to get certain kinds of permits - and then show that same paperwork AGAIN just weeks later when seeking another permit. That sort of basic data should be stored in a database somewhere. There's no reason to make small businesses run in circles, and there's no reason to have city staffers wasting their time running in circles either.

      It's conservatives who want to make government work less efficiently. As progressives, we should be demanding that government work as efficiently as possible, making as big a difference as possible with the dollars available (while fighting to make more dollars available.)

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        Kari, You are right. I should have written "elected office" instead of public service. That is what I meant....if you think what I wrote was to sling dirt rather than share my opinion, you misjudge me. This is not a like/dislike issue. I don't think that becoming mayor of 23rd most populous city in the nation should be an on the job training program. Mayor Katz had a number of years in the house before applying for this job.

        Now that I have apologized for mis-writing one part of my comment can you address the rest of what I wrote.

        Her interviews have been poor, she has identified herself more with the business community rather than the community at large, she seems to speak with two sides of her mouth in regards to the CRC....(I am not sure I completely understand it also in all fairness), she has not addressed the revolving door that is the chief of Police situation for our town, nor talked about the growing gang problem.and frankly seems to have some rich entitlement issues. She speaks of jobs to voters as if the Mayor position is where the buck stops on this matter rather than it being more of a national/state issue. There is only so much a mayor can do and to tell everyone different seems more like a marketing ploy. These are all of course only opinions and I thought this is the venue to share them. Let me know if that is not the case please.

        She is a very nice person and I do have a great deal of respect for her if that makes you feel better.

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    Nigel Jaquiss' seems to have lowered his standards for himself. This story is defines the issues poorly. His coverage of Occupy Portland was simply lazy, as comparison to the Mercury shows.

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    "I disagree with Eileen on some things, and I think I'd make a better mayor. But not because she's a bad person. She isn't.

    Let's make the campaign about ideas and priorities. This is Portland. The effort here isn't to avoid being bad, but to be great. Let's be great."

    Stevie Wonder once sang, "When you're moving in the positive, your destination is the brightest star!"

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