On Tuesday afternoon, the top aide to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Sam Adams, abruptly announced his resignation. Adams cited worsening health—specifically chronic anemia that left him increasingly exhausted—as the reason for his departure.
Adams’ sudden resignation left much of City Hall stunned. Since joining Wheeler’s staff in early 2021, he was the moving force behind many of Wheeler’s policies, including increasing homeless camp sweeps in the central city, crafting a plan for mass sanctioned encampments, and aggressively cleaning up trash.
Adams, who is himself a former Portland mayor, is an at-will employee, meaning he is not under contract. Adams’ annual salary is $154,200, according to Carrie Belding, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Human Resources.
Adams will not receive a severance package from the city. His last day on the payroll is Wednesday, Jan. 11—a speedier exit than is typical for high-level staff.
Severance is typically reserved for employees who are fired, so the lack of any such compensation supports the premise that Adams left of his own volition.
On the other hand, city employees experiencing chronic health issues have a number of options for maintaining their employment; they can qualify for medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Oregon Family Leave Act, take short-term disability, or use up accrued sick days, among other options that would allow them to keep their jobs.
But Adams simply resigned.
Speculation rippled through Portland circles as soon as his announcement became public that perhaps there might be more to his departure. In a long career, first as chief of staff to former Mayor Vera Katz, then as city commissioner and mayor, Adams built a reputation as a hard-charger who pursued his agenda with an energy and forcefulness atypical at City Hall.
Adams served as mayor of Portland from 2009 to 2013. Before then, he served as a city commissioner. During that time, he started a sexual relationship with a legislative intern. That intern, Beau Breedlove, alleged that their sexual relationship began before Breedlove turned 18. Adams denied the allegations, and prosecutors deemed Breedlove’s allegations not credible, but the scandal cost Adams a chance at a second term as mayor. He ran Portland City Club then worked at a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., before returning to Portland politics in 2020 with an unsuccessful challenge to Commissioner Chloe Eudaly (Commissioner Mingus Mapps won the seat).
Now, after energizing the Wheeler administration, Adams has left City Hall for a third time.