The Portland Development Commission is one of the most effective organizations in local government. Its mission is to invest local dollars to leverage even greater private development in projects in specific urban renewal districts that wouldn't otherwise happen.
PDC, private developers and contractors have such a stellar track record among professionals in economic development that people all over the world talk about Portland as the model in housing and commercial redevelopment.
For an organization so effective, it's amazing to me there are continued calls for its abolishment or its absorption into the city government. I'm thankful cooler heads prevailed and reminded us, again, that the framers of PDC's "constitution" knew exactly what they were doing nearly 50 years ago.
It's come to light that a number of African American employees have departed PDC recently or have been asked to leave. While concerns about this have been expressed by members of the African American community, it should also be a concern to the entire Portland community, particularly if injustices have occurred. As the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "… injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
It is imperative PDC responds — not with platitudes, apologies nor good intentions for the future — but with an authentic investigation and direct action. It is my hope that all people understand the need to learn what the agency's problems are and what actions can be taken, immediately and in the long term, to rectify this very sad situation.
So what should be done? Headlines are not what we need, but real understanding of what the issues are and direct action to assure a great working environment for all employees. I think it's time for the following:
• Ask a few leading members of the community to serve as co-chairs of a 40-day assessment of what's going on at PDC and what recommendations they would offer for charting an effective and accountable course. I would choose at least five members from a list of the following: Charles Jordan, Noell Webb, John Russell, Bob Walsh, Arlene Schnitzer, Vicki Nakashima, Clara Padilla-Andrews, Dick Withycombe, Kathleen Sadaat, Tony Hopson, Gail Shibley, Joan Brown-Cline, Jeff Moreland, Victor Vasquez and Mike Lindberg.
• I would ask that while it's tempting to drum up the rhetoric right now about PDC, let this group do its work. Let PDC professionals do theirs, and give the development community the chance to keep faith in PDC so it doesn't mothball plans for development that may not need the agency's investment.
• When this group completes its work, my hope is the commission, made up of very capable people who care a lot about their community, will work with the executive director, his staff and the city administration to implement policies and procedures that not only attract people of color, but retain them.
Finally, it never seems to dawn on us who is really hurt the most when PDC gets unnecessary and negative headlines. PDC seems a convenient whipping post when needed, but I want to remind everyone that the organization is made up of real people who leave their homes and go to work every day.
My hope and my prayer is that we can resolve the current PDC "crisis" without causing too many more headlines, because I worry about the impact on these very dedicated and wonderful people who really are the people who help make Portland great.
So it's time for direct action. It's time for objectivity. It's time for a win/win/win solution for all races, backgrounds, creeds, communities.
That's the kind of Portland we've all become so proud of and we have such a great reputation for — not tearing each other down and pitting ourselves against one another, but working together and solving our problems together. Let's do it again.
The Rev. J.W. Matt Hennessee is senior pastor of Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church and former chair of the Portland Development Commission.