THE PORTLAND CITY COUNCIL took a time-out in April.
For months, relationships within the council had festered, leading to visible discord at weekly meetings, and spurring observers to say the current lineup is the least-cohesive group Portland has seen in years.
So Mayor Charlie Hales and Portland's four city commissioners got professional help. At an April 24 retreat, they met with a mediator to hash out differences and bad blood, and made a commitment to be more collegial with one another. Their chiefs of staff made a similar pledge.
And things have been more amenable of late. Commissioner Amanda Fritz, for example, hasn't left council chambers in protest since an April 21 vote over a new pilot project that allowed Uber to operate in Portland (and even that was largely strategic).
So it'll be interesting to note whether these brief inroads are obliterated by a bit of bulldozing Hales unveiled July 1. Using his mayoral prerogative to assign city bureaus, Hales snatched the city's building permitting arm, the Portland Bureau of Development Services (BDS), away from Fritz, handing it to Commissioner Dan Saltzman.
Hales also plucked the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) from his own roster and gave it to Fritz.
The mayor's reasoning: ONI is best paired with Portland Parks and Recreation, which Fritz runs, and BDS is a natural partner of the Portland Housing Bureau, which Saltzman controls.
"This seemed like the best fit," says Hales spokesman Dana Haynes.
But if that's the view from Hales' offices on city hall's third floor, things look different in the commissioners' second-story outposts, where there's talk of the move being a grievous insult to Fritz.
That's because ONI is small—roughly 44 employees compared to 300 at BDS—and often seen as a low-level assignment. It's true Fritz has been ONI's staunchest proponent over the years, but piloting the bureau is likely a job she'd take on in addition to BDS, rather than instead of it.
Then you've got the Saltzman factor. The commissioner's taken lumps in the media for hugely lucrative business ties and frequent absences, but he's also seen as a safe port for troubled bureaus, capable of righting the trajectory of programs that have gone astray. Some see an element of rebuke in Hales' announcement—which, by the way, Fritz learned about not from the mayor, but an Oregonian reporter.
There's also an interesting bit of timing to the change, which takes effect July 15: It comes as Fritz has been working to find a new home for homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too. As the commissioner in charge of implementing zoning code, her endorsements could be important going forward, since it's pretty clear Central Eastside businesses are mounting a challenge to a proposed move.
Instead, BDS now lies with Saltzman, who oversaw the bureau when it levied thousands of dollars in fines against R2DToo (a tussle Fritz helped smooth out).
I asked Fritz how she responded to Hales when he delivered his decision about the bureau swap. She wouldn't comment, but what she did say revealed plenty about her thoughts: "I'm glad he believes Commissioner Saltzman will be a good partner with him in supporting Right 2 Dream Too, as I have been."