May 7, 2010 Volume 111 Number 9

Mohlis has to recuse himself from vote on PDC office lease

John Mohlis, a commissioner on the Portland Development Commission, has had to recuse himself from voting or even discussing whether or not PDC should move from its headquarters in Old Town Portland.

“I’ve never had to do this before,” said Mohlis, who is executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbia Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council. “But I understand how it could be looked at as a conflict of interest. When PDC’s attorney came to me and explained the situation, I really couldn’t argue the point.”

The issue revolves around PDC’s office space. Its lease in Old Town is set to expire Aug. 30, 2011. PDC has been downsizing its staff of 155 (most are members of AFSCME) and no longer needs as much space. Several developers and commercial property owners have solicited the Commission to relocate to one of their properties.

One of those pitching PDC is TMT Development Co., owner of the unfinished Park Avenue West Tower in the heart of downtown Portland.

Owner Tom Moyer had to stop construction on the 33-story tower in April 2009 after the Great Recession dried up construction loans. The stoppage pushed a lot of union construction workers onto the unemployment line.

TMT now needs PDC to commit to a long-term lease for three floors in order to qualify for a loan that would restart the project. [All that’s there now is a large hole in the ground.] With unemployment in the construction industry as high as 40 percent in some crafts, restarting construction would put lots of people back to work.

A conflict of interest emerges for Mohlis because as head of the building trades council, union locals pay per capita taxes based on membership. An increase in membership would mean an increase in per capita to his council.

Mohlis knows what he would like PDC to do, but he can’t talk about it.

The commission said April 28 that it will make a final decision on wheth-er or not to stay in Old Town at its meeting May 12.

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