The city's top labor negotiator is resigning.
In an abrupt move, Anna Kanwit, a long-time city employee who for the last five years has served as director of the Bureau of Human Resources (BHR), sent word this morning that she's leaving her position next month.
"I am resigning my position as the BHR Director, effective November 30," Kanwit wrote in an email to city officials Wednesday morning. "I have truly enjoyed my 26 plus years in public service."
The decision comes as Kanwit oversees fraught negotiations with the city's largest labor group, the District Council of Trade Unions (DCTU), which voted last week to authorize a potential strike if a new contract can't be hammered out.
There's no sign the bargaining is necessarily related to her decision to leave, but Kanwit alluded to the negotiations in her letter to the city's elected officials, saying: "I do not intend to be a lame duck and I am committed to reaching a negotiated agreement with the DCTU, so no worries there. :)"
Beyond labor negotiations, the BHR handles compensation matters, approves new job classifications, recruits employees, and trains city workers.
Kanwit did not immediately respond to our inquiry. Mayor Ted Wheeler's office, meanwhile, issued a terse statement.
"The mayor has a tremendous amount of respect for Anna Kanwit and is grateful for her service to the city," Wheeler spokesperson Michael Cox said. Asked whether the mayor had forced Kanwit out, Cox said only: "We don't discuss personnel matters."
Wheeler is out of the office, on vacation with his family.
News of Kanwit's departure came as a shock to Rob Wheaton, an AFSCME employee who bargains with Kanwit on behalf of the DCTU.
"Anna was talking about retiring next year, so it is strange to see the term 'resignation' versus 'retirement,'" Wheaton tells the Mercury. "This is something that seemed a bit far off the last time I discussed it with her."
Wheaton says he has no idea whether Kanwit's announcement has to do with the ongoing bargaining. He says he forwarded Wheeler a copy of email correspondence between he and Kanwit on Monday asking the mayor to intervene.
Tom Rinehart, the city's chief administrative officer, sent an email to employees this morning announcing Kanwit's impending departure.
"Her knowledge of the City and our workforce will be missed, and I thank Anna for her time leading the Bureau of Human Resources," Rinehart wrote. "Mayor Wheeler wanted me to relay his appreciation for the time Anna has dedicated to public service and to the people of Portland. He thanks her for the many accomplishments she’s achieved during her time with the City and her ability to move important initiatives forward."
Rinehart has tapped Assistant Human Resources Director Serilda Summers-McGee to take the director's job. It's unclear if that appointment is temporary or permanent.
Kanwit began her tenure at the City of Portland in 1991, as a deputy city attorney focused on employment. She moved over the human resources in 2000, taking a job as assistant director. She was appointed director in 2012.
Kanwit appeared before Portland City Council this morning, shortly after announcing her resignation, to present a proposal to create a new "deputy chief" position in the Portland Police Bureau.
Here's Kanwit's full announcement:
I am resigning my position as the BHR Director, effective November 30.
It has been an honor to work with each of you but particularly with the elected officials with whom I have worked with for so many years on wonderful innovative programs and policies for the city such as Employer of Choice, Model Employer for Persons with Disabilities, the fragrance policy and paid parental leave to name just a few of the things we accomplished. I even have fond memories of the many extremely difficult personnel issues we worked through and the numerous collective bargaining crises. I have truly enjoyed my 26 plus years in public service.
I do not intend to be a lame duck and I am committed to reaching a negotiated agreement with the DCTU, so no worries there. :)
Thank-you and best wishes, Anna.