COMMISSIONER AMANDA FRITZ has played things notably low-key since learning earlier this month she’d lost one of her prized bureaus.
Mayor Ted Wheeler’s decision January 3 to yank that assignment, the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI), no doubt irked Fritz, for whom the bureau was something of a passion project. Statements from her office since have tacitly acknowledged as much.
And it makes sense. Fritz oversaw a sizeable expansion of ONI’s duties and budget, including big new forays into marijuana enforcement and, in coming years, public campaign financing. She’d argued for the chance to shepherd those initiatives forward, and to smooth out acknowledged wrinkles in the bureau on the way.
Wheeler had other plans, handing ONI to new Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. And Fritz, as I say, has kept any lingering disappointment to herself. When we chatted about the decision recently, she declined comment, saying only ,“That’s the one right the mayor has under the charter.”
Instead, Fritz is looking forward. Now in charge of the city’s Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC), the commissioner is mulling whether to press forward with a multi-million-dollar project to change how citizens access government services—one that could possibly result in something of an expansion for her newest bureau.
Fritz says she’s hoping to dredge up a decade-old proposal to create a 311 system—a one-stop, easy-to-remember telephonic entry point for citizens seeking information or to access services from city government.
“It’s like 911 except for everything else besides emergencies,” says Fritz (who’s newly in control of the city’s 911 system). “Most major cities have it.”
The commissioner’s got plenty of data that might bolster her argument. In 2014, the city council voted to spend up to $150,250 on a study to determine how feasible 311 would be in Portland.
That report [PDF], drafted in October 2014, concluded that Portland’s alone among cities of its size in its lack of a 311 system (or something like it). Instead, the city tasks individual bureaus with being the front line of customer service calls. The rationale behind 311 is that funneling all those calls into a single access point could create efficiencies, ultimately saving cash.
That’s not to say the system wouldn’t cost money. The 2014 report suggested implementation could include nearly $5 million in new expenses, though those would be paid back within six years through savings.
Which might be one reason Fritz hasn’t taken more issue with Wheeler’s decision to yank ONI from her: If the commissioner wants traction for a new, costly project, she’ll need the mayor’s assent in the budget process that will soon kick into gear. (She blames former Mayor Charlie Hales’ reticence to pursue 311 as the reason it’s not in place already.) And in a move that will feel familiar to those who’ve seen Fritz win new cash for her bureaus in recent budget cycles, she’s thinking of couching the proposal in the requested BOEC budget her staff will submit in coming weeks.
Because as Fritz notes: “The planning of it would need to be a collaboration between BOEC and ONI. I only have one of those at this point.”