Assign of the Times

Mayor Charlie Hales shuffles the city bureaus—and commissioners have to deal.

Nick Fish looked shaken. Amanda Fritz was horrified. Steve Novick told bicycle jokes in the lobby. And Dan Saltzman left early, pleased as punch.

Portland's city commissioners had just learned their fates June 3 for the next year and a half: Mayor Charlie Hales had divvied up bureau assignments—and delivered on his promise to end the City Hall status quo. 

No bureau went to the commissioner who ran it last year. Hales dismissed the pleas of commissioners who wanted to keep their favorite gigs. In doing so, he broke up old alliances and will force City Hall to look at old bureaus in new ways.

Here's what the changes mean for you—and the city politicians who now have to get to work.

Charlie Hales is the Village Green Preservation Society. 

Most mayors keep the Police Bureau, the Portland Development Commission and the budget and finance offices for themselves. Hales did that. He also gave himself the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, where he can reshape the city's growth schemes.

But the surprise was his pocketing of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement—overseeing the 95 fractious neighborhood associations that threaten to suck a mayor into small-bore livability issues, from apartment parking to bar patio hours.

But wait—Hales is already engaged in those issues. Courting neighborhood associations keeps him close to the retail politics that helped elect him, and builds a ready-made ground operation for a re-election bid.

Dan Saltzman will fight fire with ire.

The last time Saltzman oversaw a public-safety bureau, it did not end well. In 2010, then-Mayor Sam Adams yanked the Police Bureau away, after controversy over police-involved shootings and a nasty budget dispute in which Adams accused Saltzman of “sandbagging” him. 

But Hales' handing of Portland Fire & Rescue to Saltzman keeps a City Council foot squarely on the inefficient bureau's neck. Saltzman, the resident sourpuss, has demanded reform and cost-cutting, and successfully backed a ballot measure to reduce firefighter pensions.

Hales' bad blood with the firefighters' union runs hot—he fought it as a city commissioner—and now gets some vengeance by proxy. 

Nick Fish sleeps with the ratepayers.

We will resist further piscatory puns. The ever-cautious lawyer drew the most thankless assignment: utilities. He's now in charge of both the Water Bureau (think angry ratepayers) and Bureau of Environmental Services (think sewers). The latter bureau plays a key role in the Portland Harbor Superfund site, except Hales kept that authority for himself.

What does Fish get? Ongoing ratepayer lawsuits spurred by ex-Commissioner Randy Leonard's use of Water Bureau money as a slush fund. And he inherits the implacable Friends of the Reservoirs, livid over the closing of the vintage Mount Tabor drinking-water tanks.

Oh, and voter initiative measures to strip the water and sewer bureaus from City Council control. Which would appear on the May 2014 ballot. When Fish is up for re-election. 

Steve Novick gets the shakes.

Novick may want parking meters on every street—an exaggeration, but not by much—and now he can do it with control of the Bureau of Transportation. (He can also patch potholes and keep wooing the cycling vote.)

But nothing grabs Novick's interest more than the Big One. He is obsessed with preparations for the earthquake that's overdue here in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. He's now in charge of the Bureau of Emergency Management—and gets to spend the next two years bolting houses to their foundations.

Amanda Fritz is out on the lawn.

The most anticipated question in City Hall over the last month? What comeuppance would Hales hand Fritz, who has challenged the mayor at every turn? She voted against his budget and helped kill his efforts to pass an anti-loitering law (otherwise known as "sit-lie") in the Legislature.

Hales responded with a daisy. Fritz gets the city's beloved jewel, Parks & Recreation, that Fish was loath to lose. Oddly, Fritz coveted the Water Bureau, but sources say she lost it when she fought Hales over the covering of the Washington Park reservoirs and the closing of those on Mount Tabor.

She also gets the Bureau of Development Services, which enforces building codes. One danger: The famously persnickety Fritz could insist on inspecting every house in Portland herself. 

WWeek 2015

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