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Thursday, May 9, 2013

The O Takes Its Shot at Bureau Assignments. Here's Ours!

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, May 9, 2013 at 1:44 PM

No one should be too surprised that Mayor Charlie Hales has decided to deviate from a posted schedule that had him handing back, right about now, all the bureaus he took from his colleagues in February as part of his new-look budget process—something the Oregonian has definitively reported this morning.

Hales made the move to promote citywide thinking about the budget (and maybe hold some leverage when corralling votes for his preferred version of it), and it always struck me as strange that the handover would happen before council finished haggling with Hales. And it would be strange, but he's not doing it.

But the O piece, by city hall reporter Brad Schmidt, caught my eye for a different reason: It handicapped where the bureaus will land. You'll remember we had city hall staffers make their very own guesses in a survey we published in January. Schmidt's take is "unsubstantiated," he writes, but it's a pretty good look at the possibilities.

Here's my take, blatantly stealing from Schmidt's format, since playing along seemed like a good idea when I started writing this post.

Mayor Charlie Hales: Nothing much to see here. Hales has told us most of the bureaus he plans on keeping, bureaus that traditionally sit with the mayor. He's made police reform one of his top priorities, so he'll keep the police bureau. He's claimed the Office of Equity and Human Rights. He's not going to ditch the money and/or executive power bureaus: Office of Management and Finance and the Portland Development Commission (which could be in the cross-hairs), and the Office of Governmental Relations and the City Attorney's Office. I say he hands off the Bureau of Transportation, though, to someone he trusts. And I vote he keeps the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability—too important to economic development, another major issue for Hales.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz: The Office of Neighborhood Involvement is seen as a rookie's assignment, a bureau most commissioners would see as punishment. But Fritz, who had the bureau during her first term, will still wind up with it again. She's not a rookie, but she doesn't see it as punishment. She wants it. And since no one else does... why not give it to her. The bigger question is what else Hales hands her. I'm softly guessing she'll wind up with Bureau of Environmental Services, a nod to her advocacy on utility rates and her desire for meatier work. (I think Schmidt is correct in saying she's too close to water rates activists). Yes, she's been vocal in city hall about Hales' proposal to shunt programs from BES to the general fund, keeping rates down, part of a long shopping list for budget changes. Maybe that's annoying for Hales. Maybe he'll be impressed she's so familiar with the bureau's sewer and stormwater and watershed mission.

Commissioner Nick Fish: Fish has been closely identified with the Bureau of Parks and Recreation and the Housing Bureau. The parks system, under Fish, has earned a slew of awards and begun to turn an eye, slowly, toward East Portland. Housing, under Fish-hired director Traci Manning, has also earned a reputation as a well-run bureau—winning a big gesture of faith from Hales, who gave them every bit of money it asked for in his proposed budget. The conventional wisdom is Fish will get those bureaus back. That conventional wisdom seems to be slipping a bit as reassignment comes closer. Schmidt argued Fish will lose parks because his effort for a parks bond measure is no longer in play. I argue the opposite. He'll keep parks and lose housing, despite his good stewardship—picking up a bureau that desperately needs a political makeover and Fish's gift for earning good PR: the Bureau of Transportation.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman: Like we wrote in our survey story, Saltzman also has a reputation as a bureau fixer. He's seen as having helped the Bureau of Development Services walk the straight and narrow over the past year and a half. He'll keep that, though I could see Hales maybe snapping it up on the grounds it's central to economic development. BDS once was a Randy Leonard bureau. Leonard was no friend of Hales. Saltzman also will wind up with two other bureaus closely allied with Leonard: Water and Fire and Rescue. Saltzman thumped Leonard for months over the need to use SUV units instead of large-staffed firetrucks for medical calls. He's getting his wish in the current budget—and he seems to want to dive into the bureau's business. He'll do for water what he did for BES—navigating the rough politics of rates and rate increases, but at a cooler level than Leonard did.

Commissioner Steve Novick: Let's say Novick winds up with the Portland Housing Bureau—a testament to his interest in working across jurisdictional lines, especially on safety net issues. Housing, as tax-increment money for construction projects tapers off, will rely more and more on that broader perspective and cooperation with agencies like Multnomah County and the state to deliver on its mission. (Not that anyone should think Fish wasn't good at that, either. He was.) Novick also led a review of the housing bureau's budget before he was an elected official. He'll receive both of Portland's emergency bureaus: 1) the Bureau of Emergency Management, which handles preparedness, a peculiar passion of Novick's, and 2) the Bureau of Emergency Communications, in charge of 911 dispatchers and public safety technology, which will also keep him with some skin in the public safety conversation he's shown a passion for.

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