Running the 200-plus employee Portland Development Commission with its $240 million annual budget poses a monster job in the best of times.
These aren't the best of times for the city urban-renewal agency responsible for projects aimed at transforming entire neighborhoods.
The agency is reeling from intense criticism about development decisions and bad press over shady-looking contracting. Whoever replaces PDC boss Don Mazziotti will face demoralized staff, a restive business community and skepticism from the public and City Hall.
The search is down to three finalists. (A search committee ix-nayed the best-known job applicant-former City Commissioner Charlie Hales-and a fourth finalist withdrew last week.) Unless the PDC's five-member board decides to start all over again, one of these three will be announced as executive director Monday. So who are they, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
The Pocket Résumé: A former Metro councilor and ex-director of Portland's Planning Bureau, Knowles is now a private urban planner. He has worked on a slew of transportation projects and was once chair of Portland's Housing Authority.
The Selling Points: Knowles has the most experience of the three within Portland's vaunted urban-planning apparatus. He knows what it's like to run a politicized, issues-racked agency. His personable, low-key style doesn't light up a room, but it would contrast mightily with Mazziotti, who often comes across as abrasive and high-handed.
Fatal Flaws? Sure, Knowles is a nice guy-but does he have the grit to sort out morale, personnel and contracting problems? Or the spinal steel to deal with a City Council hungering to rein in PDC's power? Transportation, planning and housing chops aside, does he know anything about attracting jobs, the part of PDC's duty that most interests business?
The Pocket Résumé: The director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, Warner used to run land use and transportation for Washington County.
The Selling Points: Warner gets credit in some circles for a turn-around job at ODOT, an agency once besieged by negative press. The $4 billion goliath now enjoys smooth relations with the Legislature. Warner has had more redevelopment experience than one might expect, lending ODOT's weight to several building revitalizations and housing projects.
Fatal Flaws? Of the three, Warner seems to know the least about PDC-and Portland itself. At a public Q&A session Monday, the ODOTster repeatedly dodged questions about bread-and-butter urban issues by saying he didn't know much but would like to know more. And some think his success at ODOT has been more cosmetic than substantial.
The Pocket Résumé: PDC's former top lawyer, now in private practice.
The Selling Points: Williams is popular and respected within PDC, and perceived as someone who could kick some internal butt. She has actually dealt with the nitty-gritty of urban renewal and is considered an expert on some of PDC's most arcane funding sources.
Fatal Flaws? If you want to clean up the mess, why hire a former insider? Or, for that matter, someone who has the least experience running a major agency? Or someone whose private practice has involved so many clients who also do business with PDC that she says she'd have to recuse herself from many agency decisions in her first year?