The first big test of Ted Wheeler's mayoral tenure began this morning, as Wheeler's office unveiled some fairly large changes in the bureaus council members will oversee.
Among the biggest changes in Wheeler's reshuffle:
•The mayor, who ran largely on an affordable housing/homelessness platform, is taking the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB) from Commissioner Dan Saltzman.
•Saltzman, in return, is getting the large, challenging Bureau of Transportation. PBOT will see increased revenues from a gas tax that's just gone into effect, but it still has funding challenges and is sort of reeling after nearly 50 traffic-related deaths in 2016.
•New commissioner Chloe Eudaly is taking on two somewhat troubled bureaus in the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (long a favorite of Commissioner Amanda Fritz, whom it was plucked from) and the Bureau of Development Services (formerly Saltzman's), responsible for much of the city's development permits and zoning enforcement. The latter is a way for Eudaly—who won her seat partly owing to her experience as a renters' rights and housing activist—to influence the housing conversation without directly controlling the PHB.
ONI, meanwhile, just got a weighty new task. It's going to administer a new public elections system in the city, beginning next year.
•Fritz will keep the parks bureau, which she's championed since 2013, and take on the tricky Bureau of Emergency Communications (which runs the city's 911 dispatch), formerly the province of former Commissioner Steve Novick.
•And Wheeler's taking on a lot. He'll oversee two bureaus—emergency management and housing—that former Mayor Charlie Hales had delegated out, and give only one Hales bureau away (the police/fire disability and retirement fund).
“My goal in assigning bureaus is to rely on the experience and interests of each commissioner to achieve real results on behalf of Portlanders,” Wheeler's quoted as saying in the press release. “Portland government can be siloed. That prevents teamwork. I want to get commissioners and bureaus to work together like never before.”
The only office left untouched in the exchange? That of Commissioner Nick Fish, an ally of Wheeler's who'll still oversee the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services (he's got one additional duty, acting as liaison to the Rose Festival Foundation).
It's not totally clear how the rest of the building has reacted to the changes, but Fish is cheery this morning.
"We’re thrilled with the assignments," he tells the Mercury. "Obviously we look forward to hitting the ground running."
It's not just his own assignments Fish is pleased with. He thinks Wheeler did a fine job doling out bureaus that match his colleagues' interests—for instance, keeping parks with Fritz, and giving Saltzman, the council's most tenured member, the big workload of PBOT.
He also called Wheeler's decision to make Eudaly a co-liaison to the homelessness-fighting A Home For Everyone task force "inspired." That change means that Saltzman, who's been at the forefront of pushing for new funds for affordable housing, suddenly has little direct authority over housing in the city.
"Chloe’s getting a full lift," Fish says. "She may be the newest member of council but she’s going to be one of the busiest."
Update, 1:43 pm: Saltzman tells the Mercury he's happy to take on a new challenge. PBOT's one bureau the commissioner hasn't tackled in his 18 years on city council.
"I feel we had a really good three-and-a-half years as housing commissioner and got a hell of a lot done," Saltzman says. "I also know that Mayor Wheeler campaigned on housing and homelessness. He’ll be a capable successor."
During his time in office, Saltzman helped pass a $258.4 million bond for affordable housing, and increase the amount of urban renewal and tax money filtered into housing projects. Now, Wheeler will be able to use that progress to shape his agenda, and Saltzman's got to wrangle a chronically underfunded PBOT.
He says his priorities for the bureau aren't "any different than what people expect. That's to focus on maintenance and focus on safety."
Saltzman also says he doesn't plan to ask voters to approve new funding sources for the bureau—a task which Novick accomplished at some peril to his reputation with voters.
"I'm not going to spend a lot of time bemoaning our funding situation," he tells the Mercury. "It would be great if we had something at the state level. I’m not looking to bring any new funding initiatives to the public."
Assigning out bureaus is one of Portland mayors' only significant powers over city commissioners. And whether Wheeler's first crack at forming a roster will ultimately stand remains to be seen.
Last month, the mayor made clear he'd be pulling back the bureaus as budget deliberations begin in April, and would reassess how to distribute them once next year's budget is passed.
"We will reach some clear understanding about how I want them to manage the bureaus," he said at the time. "It's the only real stick the mayor has."
Fish, who's had an inkling of his assignments for days, says Wheeler has already apprised him of some goals for his bureaus.
"He wants us to continue to run them in a professional manner and he wants us to continue to work stabilize rates," Fish says.
We've reached out to other commissioners' offices. We'll update when we hear back.
Here's the full roster.
MAYOR TED WHEELER
· Portland Police Bureau
· Portland Housing Bureau
· Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
· Office of Equity and Human Rights
· Portland Bureau of Emergency Management
· City Budget Office
· City Attorney
· Government Relations
· Office of Management & Finance
· Portland Development Commission
· Travel Portland
· Regional Emergency Management Group (REMG)
· Home Forward
· A Home for Everyone (with Commissioner Eudaly)
· Local Public Safety Coordinating Council
· Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission
· Portland Community Media
· Office of Neighborhood Involvement
· Bureau of Development Services
· A Home for Everyone (with Mayor Wheeler)
· Bureau of Environmental Services
· Portland Water Bureau
· Regional Arts & Culture Council
· Rose Festival Foundation
· Portland Utility Review Board
· Portland Parks & Recreation
· Bureau of Emergency Communications
· League of Cities (with Mayor Wheeler)
· Metro Policy Advisory Committee (MPAC)
· Portland Parks Foundation
· Urban Forestry Commission
· Portland Fire & Rescue
· Portland Bureau of Transportation
· Fire & Police Disability & Retirement
· Portland Children’s Levy
· Multnomah Youth Commission
· Portland Streetcar, Inc.
· Portland Mall Management, Inc.
· Portland Aerial Tram Board
· Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT)