Are you feeling underwhelmed by the current frontrunners in the mayor’s race? If so, you are not alone. The Big Three are giving a lot of Portlanders a precognitive case of voters’ remorse.

Normally, the Armchair Mayor Selection Committee would stay out of the fray, in favor of a regular citizen, but mayoral candidate Cameron Whitten delivered big time as last month’s selection, so it’s back to the pool for more. It is our pleasure to announce this month’s Armchair Mayor—and mayoral candidate—Scott Fernandez.

Fernandez brings some serious expertise in water microbiology, and that could be significant. The Water Bureau has become a leading source of resentment for Portlanders, as revenue collected ostensibly for water and sewer bills has been siphoned off to fund a variety of unrelated projects. And now the lawyers are involved. So, the topic seemed like a good place to start, with one small caveat.

There are some terms in Fernandez’s answers that require further study to understand. He is a policy wonk and a scientist, so he doesn’t communicate in the standard sound bite format. That’s refreshing, although it does add a degree of difficulty.

However, if you’ve paid a water bill in Portland lately, you will understand this on an emotional level.

NN: As a water expert, how much of your candidacy is a response to how the Water Bureau has been run?

SF: It played a significant role, but it is just one example of the many problems we see with the way Portland City Council runs Portland. The water commissioner has been the source of the problems with the Water Bureau. The Portland mayoral campaign began in late spring 2011, and because none of the leading candidates spoke of drinking water issues, I entered the race in January.

The community needed to know the EPA variance process [that the city had pursued for years], and [understand that this variance, which was recently granted and] we are under now with Oregon Health Authority oversight, has been a failed strategy for years. The methodologies of the variance’s scientific process are unreliable, inconsistent and arbitrary. One example being because they can generate false-positive readings and confusion with other microorganisms. The variance is a temporary status granted by EPA and the Oregon Health Authority and can be withdrawn at any time if we find one or two organisms—organisms that have never been linked to illness in our drinking water system. The water commissioner loved it because he could use the temporary status of the variance to continue increasing rates under the premise we needed to keep planning and moving forward for the treatment and reservoir covering. Five percent of the water and sewer bill goes into general fund under the “utility license fee,” so there is no incentive by council to stabilize rates.

Rates will go up 11 percent in July, and rates will increase by more than 10 percent a year for many more years while under the variance. A decade ago, the Portland Utility Review Board, a broad-based group of community stakeholders, asked for a waiver to exempt us from the EPA regulation. The waiver is a permanent solution easily negotiated with Congress or the EPA. Over the years, Portland City Council refused to even ask the EPA for a waiver. The commissioner has said there is no such thing as a “waiver.” [But] we are currently under a waiver from EPA known as a “Filtration Avoidance Determination.”

As a microbiologist, I have written a scientifically supported paper outlining a waiver provision based on the deficiencies of the LT2 regulation as it relates to the Safe Drinking Water Act. A waiver from the EPA regulation could be implemented immediately. It is important for your audience to know that most EPA information is old, outdated and unreliable. I have publicly and for the record told Merkley twice I will go before Congress and the EPA and present my scientific position.

NN: Portlanders can go to your website to get a better picture of your views, but how would you argue that your life experience—in marketing for example—qualifies you to be mayor?

SF: Business experience is important in running the City of Portland. It has given me skills to successfully create and provide the final say in: management, hiring, establishing budgets, business plans, and strategic planning. The City of Portland is by definition a business: an organization that provides goods, services or both. Also the business end of my experience allows me to attract and keep businesses in Portland because I can speak their language. Knowing what they need in the labor, fees and utility costs of running their operations adds to their incentive to locate here.

NN: You are clearly energized by what you see as waste and mismanagement in city government. Can you give us anything specific as far as numbers on that? Are we just being sloppy or are we the next Stockton, Calif.?

SF: There are many examples but the ones we can easily identify and relate to have been demonstrated in the unscrupulous and unnecessary EPA LT2 spending. Had the commissioner and Portland City Council asked for the above mentioned waiver, we could have saved more than $20 million on the design of the unneeded treatment plant, and more than $90 million on the unneeded Powell Butte reservoir. We have seen water rate increases exceeding 50 percent in the last five years. All for no measurable public health benefit. We should have used this money to create living-wage jobs addressing the thousands of hours of deferred water system maintenance. The debt service of borrowed money continues to grow. We could become like Stockton, making the wrong choice of privatizing our water system because of debt. The engineering corporations wanted privatization to occur with the outcome of blending Columbia, Willamette and Clackamas River water at Powell Butte. I successfully fought the plan in 2002 that was going to be the beginning of the Bull Run Regional Drinking Water Agency.

NN: How do you see Portland’s future shaping up? Are we merely under bad fiscal management right now or do we need to change our overall long-term direction?

SF: My experience on the Portland Utility Review Board, and reviewing budgets over the last decade, clearly indicates we need a new, disciplined direction. Portland City Council has become addicted to debt and spending and it has to stop. As a city we are close to financial disaster if we keep following the same path. Unfunded pensions and cost shifting city expenses to property taxes are unsustainable. The Portland City Auditor came out with a summary in summer 2011 that came to the same conclusion. We can get out of the financial abyss, but it will take strong, experienced leadership. I can provide such leadership.

NN: Do you feel your campaign is being covered fairly by the local media?

SF: No, absolutely not. The citizens of Portland are being shortchanged by their limited choice of candidates. Having our leaders chosen only by the amount of money they can raise contradicts the whole premise of democracy itself. What does money have to do with qualifications? The money issue is compounded by the fact that the campaign contributions from the three leaders are coming from the same cronies of City Hall that produced the dysfunctional economic situation we are in now as a city. Thus, the cycle continues and status quo remains the same. The excuses for not including a broader candidate process are lame and need to be changed. The citizens of Portland deserve better.

NN: Finally, if you had one chance to address the citizens of Portland, what would you say?

SF: Because of my experiences, I am professionally prepared to take charge the first day in office as mayor. Important science issues require immediate attention because of their “big ticket” financial impact on the community. I will suspend water rate increases for two years, and begin the EPA LT2 waiver process immediately. My leadership in science will benefit Portland with the Portland Harbor Superfund, already nearly one-third of our water and sewer bill. We have not even started the mitigation process that is projected to take decades. I have initiated a scientific protocol that is feasible and economically responsible to successfully address the Superfund issue. We will fund basic services first. Issues such as weekly garbage collection will resume.

Portland Parks and Recreation will be fully funded from the general fund, without a property tax levy. Portland has a budget of $3.5 billion. There is plenty of money, it just needs to be budgeted responsibly.

I will include and encourage fair public participation in the budget and other important processes, working together with citizens, businesses and city officials to use our resources wisely. Citizen input will be incorporated into the final product and implementation, not just put on a shelf as we’ve seen with past studies and processes.

The City of Portland has entered into the most important election in its history. In many ways we are at the crossroads of success or failure as a community. More of the same policies and cronyism will negatively impact Portland as we know it today. New, experienced, broad-based leadership is needed now. The strong and proven leadership skills I have established in science, business and Portland bureau budgeting differentiates me from the other candidates. Please vote for a new and positive change, vote for Scott Fernandez.