A Portland city commissioner may have jumped the gun by appointing the city’s first interim deputy city administrator.

Last week, Commissioner Rene Gonzalez’s office announced Mike Myers will assume a leadership role over the city’s new Public Safety Service Area. Public Safety will encompass the fire and police bureaus, emergency management, 911 operations, business operations, and programs and policy.

The commissioner was the first to appoint a top leader to carry the city into its new governing system, come 2025. The only problem? Gonzalez isn’t in charge of the new Public Safety Service Area—at least not officially. 

Back in November, during discussions about the city’s charter transition, the council passed a resolution confirming a new organizational structure for the city and its bureaus. 

The city’s new organizational chart calls for city bureaus to be lumped into six service areas. Each service area will eventually be overseen by a deputy city administrator, rather than the current system where elected city commissioners oversee bureaus. Deputy city administrators will be second-in-command to Portland’s future city administrator, which will be responsible for managing the city.

The council agreed that each commissioner would oversee a specific service area that generally aligns with their current bureau assignments, effective July 1. Gonzalez is listed as the commissioner in charge of public safety. The same resolution that spelled out timelines and assignments stipulates the mayor and commissioners aren’t precluded from “initiating streamlining, integration, or other development of their respective service area” before July.

The changes are all part of a government transition process spurred by a charter reform measure passed by voters in 2022. 

Commissioner Gonzalez is one of three City Council members who is currently running to be the first mayor under Portland’s new governing structure.

Mike Myers

He said he appointed Myers to head up the city’s public safety bureaus in an attempt to speed up and unify leadership of the city’s police, fire, and 911 operations.  

“Today is a major milestone in delivering a unified City Public Safety Team by January 1, 2025 for the first time in over 100 years,” Gonzalez said last week in a staffing announcement sent to media. “Mike is [a] national leader in public safety, a strategic thinker, with deep understanding of Portland public safety bureaus. My direction to him is clear: unify the city’s public safety teams and show progress in 2024 in restoring Portland as one of the safest cities in the United States.” 

Myers retired as Las Vegas fire chief in 2013 before coming to Oregon, where he served as Portland’s fire chief for a three-year stint that ended in 2019. Myers now oversees the Community Safety division, and is tasked with running the Office of Violence Prevention, and the Street Services Coordination Center, under the mayor.

Last year, it was reported that Myers was working remotely from Las Vegas while doing the bulk of his work overseeing major policing and safety programs for Portland, from at least 2021 until summer of 2023. He moved back to Portland when the city revised its remote work policies. 

While Gonzalez’s team said tapping Myers to oversee the city’s public safety bureaus was an attempt to provide stable, seasoned leadership, news of Gonzalez’s hiring decision caught other commissioners off guard. The Portland City Council never discussed Myers’ appointment, and didn’t seem poised to. 

The bulk of the changes to kickstart Portland’s new form of government–namely, the new organizational chart and management structure–don’t take effect until July 1. Moreover, a budget for the deputy city administrators (there will be six–one for each service area), along with position specifications and employment agreements, are still being ironed out by city staff. 

Gonzalez’s staff say because Myers is already a city employee, the shift in roles has no financial impact to the city.

“Right now, the money follows the person, so it’s budget-neutral. It doesn’t add any new cost,” Shah Smith, Gonzalez’s chief of staff, said by phone Monday. 

But it’s unclear whether Gonzalez usurped his authority by making a hiring decision. The bureaus under the new Public Safety Service Area are currently split by Gonzalez and the mayor. Gonzalez oversees Portland Fire & Rescue and the Bureau of Emergency Communications (911). Mayor Ted Wheeler oversees the police bureau and typically decides bureau assignments for the council. 

The council agreed last November that Gonzalez would oversee public safety, with Wheeler in charge of budget and finance, and city operations, but the mayor’s office says commissioners have yet to officially be assigned those service areas.

A staffer in Commissioner Carmen Rubio’s office seemed surprised at the news, but declined to talk on the record. The mayor’s office says Gonzalez is simply signaling his “intent” to appoint Myers. 

“Currently, the role of deputy city administrators, which were created as part of the transition to a new form of government, will be established no sooner than July 1, per council resolution, and at least until then, Mr. Myers will continue in his position as the community safety transition director reporting to the mayor,” Wheeler’s staff noted in response to questions from the Mercury.

In the announcement of Myers’ appointment, Myers stated a strategic plan is “already underway.”

Gonzalez’s team says they consulted with legal counsel before proceeding, and confirmed that commissioners are free to make hiring decisions before July.

“We had the city attorney weigh in and sign off on all that,” Smith said. “Internally, we’ve done all the stuff to check the boxes.”

Despite disagreements over process and authority, Mayor Wheeler extended praise for Myers.

“Mike Myers is a well-respected leader who has the experience and the skills to lift our collective work around public safety,” Wheeler said in a statement to the Mercury.

Gonzalez said the hiring decision will “accelerate charter reform,” but the commissioner has been one of the most vocal opponents of charter reform. Last summer, he and Commissioner Dan Ryan floated several major changes to the charter reform measure passed by voters. The attempt drew heavy public scrutiny, and none of the proposed changes came to fruition. More recently, Gonzalez signaled disinterest in ushering in the government transition on a rapid timeline.