It's summer at city hall, which means staffers are squeezing in vacations, and there are only five items on the regular agenda for this week's meeting. The most interesting agenda item is a quick final vote—without discussion—to rezone North Interstate.
"It's unusually quiet," says Chief of Staff Ty Kovatch, whose boss, worker bee Randy Leonard, even took a few days off. (Or tried to: He reportedly calls to check in. Frequently.)
Commissioners are tinkering on long-range projects, like development of a "Center of Excellence" green building, animal control licensing, studying the police bureau, and the transition from Mayor Tom Potter to Mayor Sam Adams. In other words: yawn.
New Commissioner Nick Fish, however, isn't slowing down this summer. I finally caught up with him—barely—as he power walked from city hall to a lunch date at Red Star on SW 5th and Alder this past Monday, July 21.
We chatted about Fish's recent choice of Oregon Opportunity Network Executive Director Sam Chase to serve as his chief of staff—the right-hand man who'll do everything from manage the rest of the staff, speak on Fish's behalf, and advise him on policy.
"He always gives me great advice," says Fish. "He was someone I'd always go to on housing issues. He's very pragmatic."
Fish—the housing commissioner—notes Chase's accomplishments in the affordable housing sector, like being a "driving force" for the city council's 2006 vote to set aside 30 percent of the Portland Development Commission's budget for affordable housing, and pushing for a real estate document "recording fee" that would boost housing funds.
But between Fish—a former Housing Authority of Portland (HAP) board member—and Chase, isn't that an overload of housing advocacy in one office? I would've put my money on Fish picking a chief who'd balance out his passion for housing.
"I'd have been less interested in [Chase] if he'd had just a housing background," Fish admits. But Chase also brings a "breadth of experience in advocacy work" on education and the environment. He's also run for office—for Senate District 17, in 2006.
And, Fish adds, Chase is someone who's not afraid to tell the commissioner no. "He has pushed back on me," when Fish floated past ideas. Chase is also "someone from outside the building who knows how to work the building," referring to city hall's inner political machinations.
Chase doesn't officially start until August, but he and Fish have already chosen a senior policy director, who will be announced next week. And Fish is busy pursuing his agenda: His lunch meeting on Monday was with HAP Director Steve Rudman, to check in on the homeless day-access center's progress, and to talk about Fish's plan to make it easier for people with Section 8 vouchers to locate rental units. Go, Fish!