- Andrew Sheridan
Mayor Charlie Hales charted the course of the Portland City Council as you see it today when he blew up city commissioners' bureau assignments in June 2013.
Commissioner Nick Fish really liked housing and parks, but suddenly found himself in charge of a pair of utility bureaus facing a high-profile lawsuit and a fast-approaching attempt to snatch water and sewer service from city hall entirely.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz lost an Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) gig she prized, and picked up a parks bureau that's made her lose sleep at night for the way it pays its workers.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman got the Bureau of Development Services—the city's building code and permitting office—snatched away, just as it was finding new financial sufficiency from an uptick in building permits.
There were grumbles and hurt feelings. Not long ago, observers were quick to call Portland's current city council the least-cohesive anyone had seen in years (at a recent retreat, it's said, commissioners made a commitment to be more collegial with one another).
Why am I writing all this? Because Hales just announced another switcheroo—on the first day of the brand new city budget—though it's more a return to a pre-Mayor-Hales council than anything.
Hales is giving Fritz back ONI, which has been in his hands. That move comes just as the bureau prepares to ramp up the city's regulatory process for recreational marijuana (it already regulates alcohol sales). A presentation to council on what that system will look like is expected before the end of the month, and no one's offering much in the way of specifics right now. Fritz gets to keep parks—which she first guided through a crucial bond renewal and then convinced her colleagues to pepper with more developer money in coming years. That's a good thing for parks employees, since Fritz has made it a mission to improve the bureau's old system of relying on poorly paid seasonal employees to keep programs going.
And Saltzman gets back BDS, which may soon (once again) have to answer insistent questions about whether or not the homeless camp Right 2 Dream Too can move to a new home—this one just east of Tilikum Crossing. That's an interesting time for this re-assignment, since Saltzman's been no great friend to R2DToo in the past.
Those changes go into effect July 15.
Hales has been considering bureau changes all year. He squares the decisions by saying ONI is best paired with parks, and that it makes sense the BDS and the Portland Housing Bureau, which Saltzman controls, stay under one commissioner.
"The changes I’m making match the interests, skills and experience of their new commissioners-in-charge,” Hales said in a statement.
I've called Saltzman's office to see how he feels about an entire other bureau to juggle (the O has suggested he's already giving the ones he;s got short shrift), but haven't heard back.
Update, 9:25 am Thursday: Fritz just confirmed to me what the Oregonian reported last night: That she had very little notice that the BDS assignment would be taken away. Fritz says Hales came to talk to her about the reassignment only after the O had already told her it was in the works.
And she hinted at a concern about being taken out of the continuing talks around Right 2 Dream Too, saying: "I'm glad [Hales] believes Commissioner Saltzman will be a good partner with him in supporting Right 2 Dream Too, as I have been." Fritz says she's interested in continuing her lead role in getting R2DToo into a new home, but that she doesn't know what Hales' thoughts are on that subject.
I asked what her response was to Hales when he informed her of his plans. Fritz declined to comment.