After months of keeping all of the city’s bureaus for himself, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales reassigned them late Monday, doling out major assignments to every commissioner while scrambling them considerably from where they were before he took office.
With the budget approved last Wednesday, Hales was finally free to redistribute the bureaus, which he had kept entirely in his portfolio through the four-month process. Though the mayor, who took office in January, had dropped hints that he planned to shuffle the assignments significantly, he still managed to surprise some council members.
“The mayor signaled a while ago to all of us that he thought there was value in rotating bureaus,” Commissioner Nick Fish said late Monday. “I think he has demonstrated, rather dramatically, that he kept that approach.”
Nearly every commissioner got a portfolio with some heft, though not necessarily in the places expected.
Fish, for his part, will be in charge of the Regional Arts and Culture Council along with both the Bureau of Environment Services and the Water Bureau. Together, the last two draw a considerable amount of public heat for ever-increasing rates.
While Fish said he was sad to see both the Housing and Parks bureaus move to other hands — both had come to define him on the council — he felt “honored by the confidence” the mayor demonstrated by his assigning him both utilities. The sort of equity issues that drew him to housing, he said, were present in his new bureau responsibilities as well.
“I’m actually very concerned about the impact of rates on people with fixed incomes,” he said.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman takes over the Housing and Fire bureaus. Both are big bureaus and, while unexpected, leave the impression of a bulked up portfolio for the council veteran. Saltzman, will continue to hold onto the Portland Children’s Levy, an issue he has long championed.
Conversely, Hales opted to strip Commissioner Amanda Fritz of the two offices she’s often fought for: the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and the Office of Equity and Human Rights.
Fritz, who has the fewest assignments, will instead manage the Parks Bureau as well as the Bureau of Development Services. Parks, in particular, is a significant bureau, but notably absent from her assignments is water, a bureau she has routinely criticized for poor fiscal management.
Fritz had left City Hall by the time bureau assignments were announced and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Neighborhood involvement and equity will stay with Hales, who explained in a statement that he hoped they would fit well with the Police Bureau, which he was also keeping.
“Blending those efforts strengthens each,” he said. “It creates a nexus of community empowerment. Plus, it elevates their profile.”
Aside from those two offices, the mayor’s portfolio is the only relatively predictable one of the bunch.
By keeping police, it appears he learned from the mistake of his predecessor, Sam Adams, who gave it away, only to have to take it back after a tumultuous stretch of problems rocked the bureau.
Beyond that, the mayor will also keep Management and Finance, another traditional bureau, along with the Portland Development Commission and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which he said fit well together.
That leaves Commissioner Steve Novick, the council’s newest face, in charge of the city’s largest asset, its roads, through the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
“It’s a big bureau with big challenges and big opportunities,” Novick said, adding that he was feeling “really good” about his assignments. With hundreds of millions of dollars worth of deferred road maintenance, he said one of his priorities is figuring out how to raise more money for transportation.
Novick will also take charge of the bureaus of Emergency Management and Emergency Communications.
In his statement, Hales said he suspects bureau assignments are a “bigger deal inside City Hall” than outside the building, but were, nevertheless, important.
“You want your city’s elected leaders to manage their bureaus well, and to work together as an effective team,” he said. “So that’s our mission.”