Two of the biggest jobs in Portland are taking applications: the chief of the Portland Police Bureau and the superintendent of Portland Public Schools.
They are unelected positions. They control two of Portland's biggest public budgets. They are both about to be filled—but in fundamentally different ways.
Mayor Ted Wheeler strode into office this month promising to conduct a nationwide search to fill the job currently held by Chief Mike Marshman, appointed in June by then-Mayor Charlie Hales.
Meanwhile, the board at Portland Public Schools has launched an effort to find a permanent replacement for former Superintendent Carole Smith, who resigned in July after her administration mishandled the discovery of elevated lead levels in some schools' drinking water.
The similarities end with the importance of the jobs. Wheeler, who has made transparency a chief aim, says he'll conduct his search for the next chief in public.
The Portland School Board, on the other hand, has said it will keep its hiring process secret.
Here's a look at what each agency says it's doing—and how it could go wrong.
What's the deal?
City: The job of police chief isn't actually open. When Hales appointed Marshman in June, he made clear Marshman was a permanent replacement for retiring Chief Larry O'Dea, who left under a cloud after telling different stories about the accidental shooting of a friend during a Harney County hunting trip. Hales' move undercut Wheeler, who became mayor-elect when he won the primary election with an outright majority a month earlier. Wheeler at the time said he thought Portland should conduct a nationwide search for such an important job. Now he has to follow through.
Schools: Portland Public Schools appointed Bob McKean, a former superintendent of the Centennial School District in East Portland, in August to replace Smith on an interim basis. But he's not expected to serve beyond the end of this school year.
What have the deciders promised?
City: Wheeler has said he hopes Marshman reapplies for his job. He's also called for an exhaustive candidate search and said at a press conference last week he'd like three finalists' names to be made public. But pressed for how that would work, his spokesman, Michael Cox, demurred. "The community will have a chance to articulate their priorities for the next police chief," Cox writes in a statement. "Also, there will be some public vetting of the candidates. More details to come."
Schools: Fearing a public process would scare away potential candidates who would be forced to tell their current employers they're looking to leave, the Portland School Board has opted for a closed process. The public will not learn the name of finalists. A group of community stakeholders will advise the board on the finalists, but they'll be asked to sign confidentiality agreements. "We will make sure the stakeholder group is representative and provides quality public input to the board," Chairman Tom Koehler of the School Board said in a statement. In 2007, when the district appointed Smith as superintendent, the board also declined to publicly name its finalists.
What's the benefit?
City: Assuming he makes the names of finalists public and picks the candidate favored by Portlanders, Wheeler could buy tremendous goodwill. Jo Ann Hardesty, an activist for police accountability who's contemplating running for the City Council, counts herself among those optimistic that Wheeler's process will engage the public. "It's my hope he's looking for a truly transformative leader who takes the Portland Police Bureau where it needs to go," she says.
Schools: Members of the School Board say they can attract the best candidates if they can assure them they won't risk losing their current jobs if they apply.
What's the downside?
City: A public process for police chief could drive away candidates. And Marshman, who seems to be doing a good job, hasn't said for sure whether he'll apply. "Though Mayor Wheeler and I discussed the decision for a national search for police chief, he and his staff are just beginning the complex process of outlining the guidelines and requirements for the position," Marshman said in a statement. "When that is completed, I will review it and ensure that my personal and professional goals are aligned with what the mayor has outlined. If so, I will apply."
Schools: PPS parents who are willing and able to organize will go nuts if they don't like the candidate the board picks. Belinda Reagan, president of the Portland Federation of School Professionals union, says the district is missing a chance to show people it's abandoned its past practice of closed-door decision-making. "It's much wiser and would keep the public happier if there were more transparency," she says.
What are the political ramifications?
City: By making Marshman reapply for his job, Wheeler faces a number of political problems. He risks alienating Marshman's allies. And if he dumps Marshman for an outside candidate, Wheeler risks creating a problem where none existed. Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association union, says Wheeler made his pledge during a moment of uncertainty, as the state launched a criminal investigation of O'Dea over the shooting of his friend. But the bureau has stabilized under Marshman, Turner says. "We're going in a good direction. Morale is up, some things that need to be fixed and being fixed. I believe we have the right people in place now."
Schools: Three board members face re-election in May. The board was slow to force Smith's resignation, and it's likely board members will have no information about a new boss to share with voters before ballots are counted.