If Ted Wheeler Resigns, Who Takes Over as Acting Mayor?

If the mayor of Portland quits, not only do we not have that mayor to kick around anymore, we don’t have any mayor to kick around at all.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler arrives for a May 30 press conference following riots. (Zane Fleming)

In the unlikely event Ted Wheeler resigns, who would take over as acting Portland mayor between now and the November election? Do we have a deputy mayor position? And has the mayor ever resigned in the city's history? —Katie G.

Given how thankless and miserable the job is supposed to be, I was somewhat surprised to learn (as far as my research could determine) no sitting chief executive of Portland has ever told the city where it can stuff its weak-mayor system of government.

That's a shame, because any Portland mayor who did would demonstrate at a stroke his or her preeminent fitness to lead the world capital of grandly passive-aggressive gestures.

You see, if the mayor of Portland quits, not only do we not have that mayor to kick around anymore, we don't have any mayor to kick around at all.

It may come as a surprise to folks whose primary experience with municipal government is listening to Commissioner Gordon's phone calls to Batman, but Portland does not have a deputy mayor or any comparable office.

It doesn't matter if the mayor resigns, dies or is eaten by a giant radioactive poodle named Frunobulax—if something happens to Portland's chief exec, we just have to do without until we can have an election to fill the vacant office. Bet you wish you'd been a little nicer to old Mayor McMayorface now!

That said, Portland's founders didn't want to leave us completely ungoverned. If Frunobulax (if you thought I was done talking about Frunobulax, you don't know me very well) eats an additional two members of the City Council—depriving that body of quorum—there is an emergency plan of succession whereby the city auditor, city attorney, and various other officials who seem like they should know what they're doing are seated as emergency council members.

Until fairly recently, that plan of succession started with the chief of police and the fire chief. That makes a fair amount of sense, until you realize that any calamity that wipes out half the council will probably be keeping the fire and police chiefs fairly busy with their day jobs. The matter was referred to voters, who approved the current plan in 1988. We've been poodle-ready ever since.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com

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