Two of Mayor Ted Wheeler's bureaus—including one of his highest profile assignments—are getting a major shake-up.
Wheeler's office today announced the impending departure of Housing Director Kurt Creager and Dante James, director of the city's Office of Equity and Human RIghts. The surprise departures, one of which appears to be forced, come as Wheeler grapples with outcry over the city's housing crisis.
James' last day is December 15. He'll be replaced in the interim by Koffi Dessou, a program manager in his office. Creager's last day is tomorrow, though an email autoreply says he's out today on leave.
Wheeler's office has positive things to say about both men in the announcement.
“Kurt has been a tremendous asset as we work to add more affordable housing units in Portland and implement stronger protections for tenants,” Wheeler said in the release. “I wish Kurt all the best as he moves on from his time with the City.”
About James, Wheeler said: “Dante’s work was instrumental in creating the budget equity tool, and our plan to enhance equitable workforce development in city construction projects through the Community Equity and Inclusion Plan, which was unanimously adopted by City Council this year, among many accomplishments."
Creager's departure has been in the works for a month at least. His severance agreement [PDF] shows that Wheeler had requested the creation of a severance package for the housing director as late as November 7 (which was technically the date Human Resources approved the request). Under the agreement, signed November 30, Creager receives six months of medical and dental benefits and a payout of $96,714.94, equal to seven months of pay.
Creager submitted his letter of resignation [PDF] on Tuesday. His departure signals a possible shift in direction for what is probably Portland's highest-profile bureau these days.
Creager had hardly been stagnant in his job. In the last two weeks alone, the housing bureau had proposals before council that put city funds to two large affordable housing projects—a 240-unit building in the Lloyd District, and a 203-unit project in the River Place neighborhood.
At the helm of the housing bureau since 2015, Creager's watch coincided with a city increasingly alarmed by its housing market, and therefore a lot of activity. As he laid out in his resignation letter, that included the declaration of a housing state of emergency, a new tax on short-term rentals like Airbnb, shift of resources that created the county-run Joint Office of Homeless Services, and the passage of the city's first-ever affordable housing bond.
Of all those things, the bond has been a flashpoint. Mayor Ted Wheeler has faced backlash for delay in getting money from the $258 million housing bond out the door, and according to the Oregonian, bond spending was a central component of a critical memo Wheeler sent Creager in August. It's perhaps notable, then, that Shannon Callahan, a former aide to Commissioner Dan Saltzman who was a guiding hand in the bond passage, will be taking over for Creager in the interim. She joined the housing bureau this summer.
James, meanwhile is leaving to pursue employment opportunities in Colorado, according to Wheeler spokesperson Michael Cox.
Hit the jump for the full announcement. This post will be updated.
Portland, OR – Mayor Ted Wheeler today announced the departure of directors of two bureaus within his portfolio. Dante James, Director of the Office of Equity and Human Rights, and Kurt Creager, Director of the Bureau of Housing, each announced they are stepping down in December.
James’s last day with the City will be on December 15.
“Dante’s work was instrumental in creating the budget equity tool, and our plan to enhance equitable workforce development in city construction projects through the Community Equity and Inclusion Plan, which was unanimously adopted by City Council this year, among many accomplishments,” said Wheeler. “His leadership at the helm of OEHR will be missed.”
Koffi “Jean-Pierre” Dessou, currently a program manager in OEHR, will serve as Interim Bureau Director. Dessou has over 23 years of experience in public and private organizations. He worked for the U.S. Department of State at the American Embassy in Togo for 16 years.
Creager’s last day with the City will be December 8.
“Kurt has been a tremendous asset as we work to add more affordable housing units in Portland and implement stronger protections for tenants,” said Wheeler. “I wish Kurt all the best as he moves on from his time with the City.”
Shannon Callahan, currently an Assistant Housing Director, will serve as Interim Housing Director. Callahan has worked closely with the Portland Housing Bureau since 2013 in her role as Policy Director for Commissioner Dan Saltzman. Wheeler appointed Callahan Assistant Housing Director in August.
The Mayor’s office is establishing a process to appoint permanent directors of each bureau.