It all started in the summer of 2003. The Portland City Council (bless their pointy little heads) decided that covering the city reservoirs in Washington Park and Mt. Tabor would be a good idea and directed the Water Bureau to make it so. The Water Bureau purchased what are really enormous swimming pool covers. The cost to city taxpayers was $398,000 for the covers, plus $27,000 for piping.

A year later, the City Council yielded to public pressure and decided that perhaps there were better ways to spend the cities funds. The Water Bureau was left holding the bag… er, covers that is.

Now, what do you do with 221,000 square feet of custom-made material, masquerading as two reservoir covers, plus an odd pipe or two? Hey! Let’s sell it on eBay! They’ve got everything there!

So that is what the Water Bureau did. But, mindful of the need to spend money carefully, they opted not to set a minimum bid. That costs more, you see. The Oregonian reports that Bureau Chief Morteza Anoushiravani said he knew there wasn’t a big market for the covers and it was difficult to estimate a fair salvage price without risking the loss of a decent bid.

The bidding started out slowly, then picked up steam. The ending bid, however, was a paltry $18,100 for the covers, and $5,100 for the pipes. Bureau Chief Anoushiravani felt that was an unacceptable loss for the city, and he wanted out.

Backing out of eBay sales is a big, big no-no. A complaint from the buyers would net the state (whose eBay account the Water Bureau used) a big black mark. But, the state does offer an out if a “bona-fide requirement for the property develops or exists prior to the actual removal” of the sold item by the buyer.

Bureau Chief Anoushiravani grabbed on to that alibi like a raven with a shiny bit of tin foil. Thinking outside the box, he now proposes to use the reservoir covers as (drum roll please) reservoir liners. Then, if the Feds tell the city next year to cover the reservoirs, I guess they can just pull the liners back up to the top of the water. Sure! Said Anousiravani:

“I had to make a quick decision,” he said, “and, at the end of the day, my issue was, what am I going to do to be protective of public ratepayer dollars and interest?”

Nice thinking, Chief!

But wait… there’s more…

What, you may be asking, happened to the buyers who bought a couple of extra-large pool covers for a bargain price? Well, it turns out that they are Water Bureau employees.

Do they have really big swimming pools? Were they going to resell them at a profit? Did they just want the city to make something out of the auction? Nobody knows, and they ain’t talkin’. Nor are they getting the covers, since the auction was cancelled.

And now, to add insult to injury, the Water Bureau is investigating whether they had inside information that would have given them an advantage in reselling the covers, and whether they bid on company time. It does appear that none of the employees were in a position to have any advantageous information not available to the general puplic. And they do have a right to bid on auctions, just like everyone else. So they only question is whether they were bidding on company time or their own time.

But City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the Water Bureau says that if the employees had some notion of how to make money with the covers, “It would have been nice if they would have come forward with that.”

The Water Bureau proves the veracity of the bumper sticker seen around town: “Keep Portland Weird.”

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