Cost and Complexity Should Defeat Portland Charter Reform

No question. Portland is “The City That doesn’t Work”. But Ballot Measure 26-228, the charter reform proposal, isn’t the answer.

Driving support for the measure is a commonly held view that Portland’s government is an unwieldy mess that doesn’t serve citizens well.

A recent poll commissioned by the Portland Business Alliance validates that voters are up for change. 

Presented with the text of the ballot measure, 63% of 420 respondents said they would vote for it and 21% said they would vote no. 

The 63% figure makes it sound like approval is a slam dunk, but the devil may be in the details. 

Of that 63%, only 26% were sure they’d vote for it; 36% were less certain, but leaned toward a yes vote and 16% were undecided. In my view, even though the vote is just weeks away, that means there are an awful lot of persuadables.

The task ahead for opponents is to raise enough awareness of the measure’s complexity and cost to raise doubt about the wisdom of the whole proposal.

For example, Portlanders may think more City Council members will mean better representation. But the proposal for four districts, each represented by three city counselors, won’t necessarily translate into that result. 

One reason is because the ballot measure doesn’t specify the boundaries of the new districts. If the measure passes, a separate districting commission would be convened in January and assigned the task of drawing the boundaries. Nobody knows now where those lines will be drawn.

Things get more complicated and uncertain because the measure proposes that the councilors of each district be elected using a proportional method of ranked choice voting known as “single transferable vote” (STV). 

In this system, voters rank the candidates and if a candidate gets more votes than needed be elected the extra, or surplus, votes get transferred to the voter’s next choices. The process is so convoluted the measure takes almost 300 words to explain how it would work.

Under this system, a candidate running for a seat in a multimember district could win a position on the Council with as little as 25% of the vote. One consequence could be a councilor able to remain in office by consistently satisfying just that small segment of eligible voters and ignoring those who are disenchanted with their performance because it would require 75% of voters to vote against the entrenched councilor to remove him or her.

As Tim Nesbit, a former chief of staff to Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski and a critic of the ballot measure, wrote in the Portland Tribune, “This will be a ‘welcome to the Hotel California’ for candidates who seek office in the first council election to follow. It will be easy to check in to the council, but much harder to be forced to leave.”

And then there’s the potential cost of the new governance system proposed in the measure. Talk about buying a pig in a poke. Frankly, nobody’s really sure what the cost of the massive changes would be. 

The City Budget Office estimates the cost of implementing the measure could be up to a whopping $8.7 million annually. 

One unknown is transition costs. Then a Salary Commission that would need to set the salaries of all the newly elected officials. And all those new City Councilors will have staff. And the fact is, government tends to grow. As George Roche wrote in a booklet published by the Mackinac Center for Public policy, bureaucracies “tend to swell up like toadstools on a rotting log.”

Do Portlanders really want to spend MORE on their government? Charter reform proponents don’t tend to talk about this.

The key task ahead is to convince the “less certain” and “undecided” voters to move into the “No” column.

There’s still time. 

Lawyers of Distinction Scam Resurfaces In 2022

Why’d you fall for it, Rex?

Lawyers of distinction is back with its advertisements congratulating its newest 2022 members. One of them is Rex White, Esq., a criminal defense and family law attorney in Salem, OR.

An Oct. 1, 2022 ad in the Sunday New York Times, “Congratulations to the Newest 2022 Lawyers of Distinction”, featured White and lawyers from 40 states, the District of Columbia, Australia, Canada, France, Puerto Rico, Switzerland and even one from Vietnam. Another ad in the same issue congratulated 39 “2022 Power Lawyers”. 

Impressed? Don’t be. 

About all that’s required to be named a “Lawyer of Distinction” is to apply yourself or be nominated, fill out some online forms and pay a fee. 

According to the Orlando, FL-based organization’s website, a Charter Membership, for $475 a year, comes with a “Customized 14″ x 11″ genuine rosewood plaque”. A Featured Membership, for $575 a year, brings the plaque and inclusion in a membership roster published in USA Today, The New York Times, The American Lawyer and the National Law Journal.

Then there’s the super-duper Distinguished Membership, for $775 per year (described on the organization’s website as “Most Popular”), which brings the rosewood plaque, the membership roster ads and an 11″ tall translucent personalized crystal statue.

All of it is for attorneys, including 24 in Oregon, who apparently want to embellish their credentials by deceiving the public.

It’s like diploma mills, companies or organizations that claim to be a higher education institution, but only provide illegitimate academic degrees and diplomas for a fee.

“There’s a sucker born every minute,” is a phrase often attributed to P. T. Barnum, an American showman. It’s apparently true with respect to the attorneys who pay for “Lawyers of Distinction” memberships as well as members of the public who are misled by them. 

The Lawyers of Distinction website describes the application review process: 

“Lawyers of Distinction Members have been selected based upon a review and vetting process by our Selection Committee utilizing U.S. Provisional Patent # 62/743,254. The platform qenerates a numerical score of 1 to 5 for each of the 12 enumerated factors which are meant to recognize the applicant’s achievements and peer recognition. Members are then subject to a final review for ethical violations within the past ten years before confirmation of Membership. Nomination does not guarantee membership and attorneys may not pay a fee to be nominated. Attorneys may nominate their peers whom they feel warrant consideration. The determination of whether an attorney qualifies for Membership is based upon the aforementioned proprietary analysis discussed above.”

Phew! Sounds complex and rigorous. 

Don’t believe it.

 Essentially, it’s just pay-for-play. It’s selling badges.  It’s paying for meaningless accolades. Apply, pay the annual membership fee and you’re in.

Conrad Saam, president of Mockingbird Marketing in Seattle, tested the membership vetting process by applying for membership as his child’s pet chicken, Zippy. “Surely their ‘rigorous review process’ would disqualify a 3 1/2 month old Golden Wyandotte,” he theorized.  

Saam started by getting an email address for Zippy through Yahoo. Then he used an alias to nominate Zippy DeShickeen. He quickly received notification that Zippy had been nominated, but he chose not to send in the membership fee.  

“Surely they wanted to know more information about Zippy.  What about the background checks?  Independent Research? and Zippys scholarly writings?  Verdicts… Settlements…. Bar Certifications?  Surely that would follow in the next phase of the process; at a minimum, LOD would want to know what state Zippy was licensed in? a bar number? or a release to perform the background check?  Some of her awards?  Some bio information? But alas, the application required nothing more than a name, address and a domain.”

According to the Florida Division of Corporations, “Lawyers of Distinction Inc.” is a private for-profit company with a principal address of 4700 Millenia Boulevard, Suite 175, Orlando, FL 32839. 

Robert B. Baker, at the same address, is listed as the President in the company’s 2020 Annual Report. 

Robert Baker

But don’t go to the office address expecting to be ushered into a space with a clean, modern aesthetic that communicates success. The address is only a virtual office.

“These Orlando virtual offices are perfectly located on Millennia Blvd., offering a fantastic office location and recognisable (sic) business address without the cost of renting a full-time office space.,” its website says. “Virtual office users benefit from a local phone number, receptionist call answering services, and a mail handling facility, and can even visit the premises for meeting room rental or day office usage whenever the need arises.”

Robert “Robbie” Brian Baker, a member of the Florida Bar (Bar #992460), is also the founder and owner of Baker Legal Team at 2255 Glades Rd., Ste 330-W, Boca Raton, FL 33431. According to the Baker Legal Team website, he has a degree from Boston University School of Law in 1989 and a B.A. from Ithaca College. 

As an aside, the firm’s website has the chutzpah to highlight that it’s a member of Lawyers of Distinction. 

Lawyers of Distinction’s website says it currently has over 5000 members. If 5000 lawyers sign up for the Distinguished category at $775 this year, the organization will rake in $3.9 million. Quite a haul.

Lawyers of Distinction tries to quell doubts about its legitimacy by including on its website a section headed, “Is Lawyers of Distinction A Scam? With Over 5000 Members, See What Lawyers Have To Say.” But all the section contains are a few member comments and ratings, such as, “Andre L. Pennington – June 20, 2022, I love the opportunities that this honor provides. I highly recommend!”

It’s likely that few attorneys have been duped by Lawyers of Distinction, lured into believing they’ve been selected for a rare honor based on their legal work. They must figure that impressing potential clients is worth the chronic mendacity and deception.

But the widespread use of Lawyers of Distinction by American attorneys really just represents the decay of honest professional representation. If the American Bar Association  and state bar associations really cared about lawyers’ clients they would be cracking down on such misleading marketing ploys.

And if an attorney ballyhoos their selection as a Lawyer of Distinction to you, beware. They are living in a world of unearned praise.