Goofus & Gallant Go To City Hall

One year ago, we elected Charlie Hales as Portland mayor. Did we get a loafer or a leader?

It was a year ago that Charlie Hales waved to a cheering election-night crowd at the nightclub Holocene, embraced his landslide victory as Portland's mayor and told his supporters he was ready to get to work.

He held up a tool belt given to him by a supporter as a symbol of Hales' readiness to start the job.

"We promised you action," Hales said. "And we will deliver."

But despite shouts from the audience—"Put it on! Put it on!"—Hales refused to wear the tool belt.

A lot of people are now wondering if he will ever put it on.

Hales won the mayor's race after running a skilled campaign that placed him in stark contrast to the fractious city government led by his predecessor, Mayor Sam Adams.

The promise of a Mayor Hales impressed voters (he got 61 percent of the vote) and a lot of us in the media. WW, after all, gave Hales our strong endorsementtwice—based on his maturity, executive experience and track record of big achievements, such as spearheading the rebirth of the streetcar in America.

Hales inherited a financial mess and a mayor's office that had not seen strong leadership for at least eight years. He took firm control of the city budget, filling a $21 million deficit, forcing bureaus to set priorities and cut fat.

But since that work finished in May, it's often looked as if a different guy moved into the mayor's office, one unprepared to lead and clumsy when he tries to do so.

We spoke to more than 30 people who work for City Hall or regularly do business with it. Almost all are perplexed at how Hales has failed to articulate a vision for the city.

Insiders—including some of Hales' staff—say he has yet to take the necessary steps to fulfill his bigger campaign promises, including making police more accountable and collaborating with city commissioners. Some pressing problems—including homelessness and the Water Bureau—are festering.

Even Hales' boosters are getting frustrated.

"He's been caught up in reactionary circumstances," says Vic Rhodes, who manages the downtown transit mall and donated $4,200 to Hales' campaign. "The mayor's office needs to set a clear agenda for the next three years, take charge and make it happen."

Adds Corky Collier, executive director of the Columbia Corridor Association: "Would I like to see more coming out of him? Sure. Everybody would."

In an interview with WW, Hales offered a spirited defense of his first year, saying he has fulfilled the promise to get Portland government back to basics. But he also acknowledged he has done a poor job of communicating with citizens about what he is doing. (See the interview here.)

"If I went out and knocked on four doors at [Southeast] 127th [Avenue] and Mill [Street]," Hales says, "and asked, 'Is this what you'd like your mayor to do? Manage the budget?' I think most people would say yes. If people find out about how I've spent my time by results rather than by a photo op, I'm fine with that."

Since Election Day 2012, we have been struck by the two Charlies: the polished, confident planner, and the erratic and wobbly mayor.

This got us thinking—where have we seen this phenomenon before?

Romulus and Remus? No, too Latin.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Too bloody.

Spock and Evil Spock? No goatee.

Then it came rushing back—those hours spent idling in the dentist's waiting room, thumbing through Highlights for Children, the magazine that gave us Goofus and Gallant.

Those two cartoon characters exemplified stark differences in deportment and not-so-subtle lessons in behavior.

There's the distracted Goofus, who pelted birds with rocks, disappointed adults and disturbed his friends. Or Gallant, who made parents misty with pride with his determination to do the right thing.

This motif may seem lighthearted, but the message is not. Hales can still pull his administration together and bring about fundamental change in Portland.

It comes down to the existential choice Highlights for Children offered us all.

Goofus or Gallant: Which one did we elect as mayor, and which one does Charlie Hales want to be?

When he ran for office, Hales talked about creating jobs. One big promise: to start a city-funded credit union, called Community Credit Portland, that would give loans to small businesses. "Portland would be the first city in the nation to use its funds to support the growth of family-wage jobs," Hales told the Oregon Working Families Party during the 2012 primary.

Once in office, Hales dispatched an aide to meet with a credit union about the idea. "I had one official meeting on the issue, and one follow-up," says Noah Siegel, a former Hales staffer who was assigned to the project. "I wasn't sure if it was a high priority for Charlie."

Apparently it wasn't. Hales never asked about the plan again.

The mayor's first year is littered with such stories: ambitious or controversial goals Hales announced, then abandoned. Hales says his determination to focus on the basics has meant he has put a lot of his more ambitious ideas on hold.

"The best way to serve the citizens of this city is to do the basics well first and then start advancing innovations," Hales says. "One of those basics is being able to pay the bills."

Everyone WW interviewed says Hales' work on a difficult budget was the high point of his year. The mayor made significant trims, especially to the public safety bureaus—police and fire—once seen as untouchable.

It's harder to find anything he has completed—or made significant progress on—since.

Hales pitched a "carbon tax"—a combination of gas tax and power utility tax—that he ditched once a phone survey showed voters disliked it. He pledged to turn all city streets into "complete streets" but admitted his plan had no funding. (A carbon tax could have helped.)

Hales questioned the need for the city's Office of Equity and Human Rights, one of Adams' creations. Once elected, Hales assigned the office to himself and claims it's made an impact on city hiring, although he couldn't specifically cite how.

"I think they've had a positive effect," Hales says, "raising consciousness in the bureaus."

Hales also wants the city to find creative ways to spend—and save—money. In May, he announced a $1 million "innovation fund" to do just that.

But the fund has not done anything.

Why? The task force to run the fund still has no members. And that's because Hales' office has yet to make a phone call asking anyone to serve on it.

As a candidate, Hales made schools a top priority. The mayor has no say over public education, as Hales well knew. But it plays well with voters. "As mayor," his campaign said, "Charlie will do everything he can to help support our schools."

Hales went to Salem to make a pitch for more money for schools and organized other mayors to join him.

As a candidate, Hales also pledged to support programs linking students to the workforce.

In his first weeks as mayor, he cut a $395,000 package of grants for Worksystems Inc. The nonprofit offers summer internships to teenagers, often putting them to work for city officials. Most of the participants were low-income and minority teens.

Hales terminated the contract without first performing the necessary political groundwork. The program's supporters—including County Commissioner Loretta Smith and the Albina Ministerial Alliance—were furious. Faced with criticism, Hales retreated. "We tried to save $400,000," Hales spokesman Dana Haynes told WW, "and we didn't."

It wasn't the only time Hales landed on an idea, discovered it was radioactive, then jumped away.

Hales appealed to East Portland with pledges of more city services.

He also promised to repair and patch 100 miles of city streets, tackling a maintenance backlog that had grown under Adams. Hales got a quick media victory in February, when he announced the city's Bureau of Transportation would meet his paving goal.

But Hales knew the city had no money for such a project. So he told his new transportation chief, Toby Widmer, to take money from other projects, including a six-block sidewalk project along Southeast 136th Avenue.

Ten days after Widmer announced his roads effort, 5-year-old Morgan Maynard-Cook died after being hit by a car while trying to cross Southeast 136th Avenue.

The fiasco made Hales look heartless—perhaps unfairly. As Rep. Shemia Fagan (D-East Portland), who criticized Hales, put it, "It shouldn't take a little girl's life to make it happen."

The sidewalk and Worksystems cases were surprising because Hales came to office with decades of political experience. Still, the mayor says, he learned important lessons.

"Think it through," Hales says. "Part of the freedom I feel in this, my last office, is if we make mistakes, reverse them and try to find the right path. Now, you can't do that every week. You can't be backing up over yourself every week. But I don't mind learning as we go."

Hales found $2.1 million for the sidewalk project, protected his plan to repair streets and is on track to meet his pledge.

Hales pitched himself to voters as a veteran of government and business. After all, he had spent years as a lobbyist, a decade as a city commissioner, and another 10 years as an executive with the engineering firm HDR Inc. His experience, he said, taught him to avoid distractions.

"There's going to be stuff coming over the transom all the time," he told WW days before his swearing-in. "This week it's fluoride, next week it's school safety. But I'm going to focus relentlessly on a few things."

Ten months later, Hales has identified few large-scale proposals.

He points to his work on police reforms, school funding and bracing the budget. "We've made real headway on all three of those," he says.

But he's also struggled to stay focused. Hales' staff members tell WW the mayor rarely gathers his team to discuss his agenda. His staff responds to that day's crisis while Hales shifts from one enthusiasm to another.

He tried to solve the chaotic weekend bar scene in Old Town by creating an Entertainment District. The city routinely closes streets to cars and has installed portable urinals. Many bar owners, other businesses and residents have found Hales' fix caused more problems.

Howard Weiner, chairman of the Old Town/Chinatown Community Association, says the plan has reduced crime but hurt business. 

"The street closures have been an advantage to alcohol outlets that cater to large crowds," he says. "It hasn't been successful for anybody else."

During the mayoral campaign, Hales pledged to do something about new, large apartment buildings being developed without onsite parking ("Block Busters," WW, Sept. 19, 2012). Hales had supported the policy but later did an about-face. In office, Hales halted an apartment project on Southeast Division Street, then let it go ahead. The city enacted new parking requirements but didn't solve the problems for neighbors.

"He took a political process that was winding through, and made a real crisis," says Tony Jordan, president of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association. "For somebody who came in saying, 'It's grown-up time now,' it was strange to see him flip-flopping."

In June, he cracked down on the Northeast Alberta Street festival Last Thursday. It was overdue: The unpermitted and poorly planned 16-block bohemian street party had long spilled its sauced celebrants into surrounding homeowners' yards.

Hales sent a team of city employees to track public drunkenness and outdoor urination, prompting him to declare a 9 pm curfew. The nonprofit's board quit, and Hales found himself personally in charge of the mess. In July, Hales led enforcement of the curfew, walking in front of a parade of street-sweeping trucks that chased out revelers.

But nothing was solved. Drunkenness and fights have continued at the monthly festival.

"There's been a sincere and significant effort," says Daniel Greenstadt, chairman of the Concordia Neighborhood Association. "I think the mayor's office has learned it's perhaps less trivial than they thought."

In September, Hales said he didn't want to manage Last Thursday any longer.

Hales pledged in his campaign to soothe rancor between the city and other local governments and make the City Council a collaborative "board of directors." "You get more flies with honey than vinegar," Hales told WW before taking office. "I will make sweet contact with a lot of other decision-makers, because we'll need them."

Hales deserves credit for shaking up city bureau assignments, forcing commissioners to relinquish calcified roles.

But he acknowledges he has not done well when it comes to working with colleagues on the council. It's another surprise, given that his 10 years as a commissioner should have made him keenly aware that this promise of collegiality was important to keep.

"I haven't met my own experience about being a good colleague at very turn," Hales says. "I've tried to practice that. But I haven't always been as collaborative with my colleagues as I need to be, in order to have their willing partnership on things that need to be done."

Hales has weekly meetings with each commissioner, but he is otherwise aloof—even uncommunicative—with fellow elected officials. City leaders say they have learned to check their social-media feeds to learn about the mayor's newest policy directives.

Hales unilaterally decided in May to eliminate the city's chief financial officer position. The CFO is a financial expert who keeps an eye on how the city handles money. Notably, Hales made this move after the previous CFO, Rich Goward, blew the whistle on mismanagement by the city's chief administrative officer, Jack Graham.

It's not just that Hales "rewarded" Goward for his diligence by eliminating his job. Hales got rid of the CFO position against all advice, including that of City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade and an independent auditor. City Commissioner Nick Fish also criticized the move. Hales responded as he often has when criticized: He refused to comment for weeks.

Under fire, Hales backpedaled, sort of, and came up with a half-plan: Put a panel of volunteers in charge of re-evaluating the city's entire financial structure.

"I was trying to establish the principle that no one was safe from reducing overhead positions," Hales says. "We're having a debate about this. Companies reconsider their management structure all the time."

Sources inside and outside City Hall remain perplexed why a skilled executive won't concede the importance of a financial monitor.

"We're a $3.6 billion municipal corporation," Fish says. "We need a watchdog."

The Jack Graham episode exposed another hitch no one saw coming with Hales: He protects problematic employees.

Hales arrived in office to a report on his desk showing that Graham in May 2012 tried to shuffle money illegally between bureaus to help ease a budget crunch. Hales didn't just get rid of the whistle-blower, he tried to keep the whole thing under wraps, fighting a public records request sparked by The Oregonian to uncover what had really happened.

Meanwhile, Hales shifted blame away from himself. "If I were to dismiss every city employee who worked on a shaky financial proposition or idea during the Adams administration and send them packing," Hales said on OPB's Think Out Loud in June, "we'd need to charter a couple of buses."

When Hales was forced to release documents in the Graham investigation, they showed Adams had nothing to do with the mess. Hales later apologized to Adams.

This was not the accountability Hales had promised, nor did it look like Hales the mayoral candidate, who summarily fired his campaign staff after the 2012 primary.

He started his term by axing transportation director Tom Miller, and telling newspapers he would personally evaluate other bureau heads from the Adams years. He hasn't fired or demoted any of the other 25 bureau or department directors.

Hales promised to reform the Police Bureau and appointed Baruti Artharee, a respected leader in the African-American community, to be his police liaison. It was a bold step, given the strife the bureau has historically generated in the city's black community.

Artharee was in charge of tracking changes being imposed on the police by the U.S. Department of Justice. But people involved say he was ineffective and skipped meetings. Artharee quickly distinguished himself by publicly humiliating County Commissioner Loretta Smith at a June event for Office of Equity director Dante James. Artharee, at the microphone, spotted Smith among the attendees and said, "Mmm, mmm, mmm, she looks good tonight."

Hales had to visit Multnomah County offices to apologize to Smith, who was furious at Hales' refusal to fire Artharee. "I want Baruti Artharee right next to me," Hales said. "Who better?" Three months later, Artharee quit.

Hales as a candidate pledged to transform the Police Bureau. WW reported Nov. 1 that Hales' office was close to reaching a deal between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Police Bureau and its union, the Portland Police Association, over use of excessive force against the mentally ill.

Hales has also moved to dismantle the commanding officers union, which has stood in the way of disciplining top brass.

But he's made no move to keep his biggest promises: expand community policing and do away with the so-called "48-hour rule," which allows officers involved in shootings to avoid answering investigators' questions for two days.

Getting rid of the 48-hour rule, spelled out in the police union contract, was a major campaign promise. But Hales now tells WW he doesn't think he can do it.

"It's unclear how we're going to get there," he says.

Hales refused to meet last month with the Independent Police Review Division when it proposed a rule that would let the civilian investigators directly question officers.

On Oct. 28, Griffin-Valade, the city auditor, yanked those code changes off the council agenda. She said the City Council "essentially broke faith with the Department of Justice and breached the public's trust that police accountability in Portland is taken seriously by city leaders."

Hales showed during the campaign that he's flexible enough to change direction when it's required. But his time as mayor shows he can be brittle and counterproductive when it comes to people telling him he's wrong.
His budget cut $117,000 from a Janus Youth Programs effort that tries to prevent child prostitution. Janus officials testified against the cuts. When they met the mayor in May, Hales berated them for blindsiding him, The Portland Mercury reported.

When he ran for office, Hales made a promise about utility bills: "Lower water and sewer rates and improved basic services for every neighborhood."

It was a tough promise to keep, as debt for water and sewer projects grows. But so has frustration at how Water Bureau money has been spent on pet projects, such as building a demonstration "Water House," and subsidizing the Rose Festival.

Hales raised rates 4.8 percent. He tells WW that was a big win for ratepayers given that the increase was scheduled to be 14 percent.

Some companies that pay the city's biggest utility bills launched a ballot initiative to wrest control of the city's water and sewer bureaus from City Hall and give it to an independently elected board.

In June, Hales invited representatives of the large water users to City Hall—including ringleaders from Portland Bottling and Siltronic. He yelled. He pounded on a table. He called the business owners "political terrorists," and threatened to destroy their movement.

Several people were stunned, and others found Hales' behavior bizarre.

"He was literally out of control," Siltronic vice president Tom Fahey told WW in August. "I've never seen him that angry. I've never seen him or heard him be that loud."

Asked about the meeting, Hales seemed freshly rankled.

"I spent the last 10 years working for a corporation, so I know what a hostile takeover looks like," he says. "These clowns decided to carry out an act of political terrorism. That's what I called it in that meeting, and that's what it is."

A defining event of Hales' first year in office was his sweep of the homeless from Portland's sidewalks, parks and underpasses. No one saw it coming, not from the mayoral candidate who said he'd cook Occupy Portland a pancake breakfast, and who talked in soothing tones about the city's commitment to helping people living on the street.

Hales promised that, as mayor, he would lead other governments and private donors in a joint effort to find more money for shelter and care for the homeless. At an East Portland Chamber of Commerce debate last fall, he praised homeless-aid groups: "I think those nonprofits need more resources, more support from us all."

Hales notes that his budget protected existing funding for social-services programs. But he says that's not to be confused with the need to deal with "lawbreakers" camping on the sidewalks.

In July, a street kid attacked a 70-year-old Portland Outdoor Store employee with a skateboard, while a group of homeless protesters outside City Hall's front door heckled officials so persistently that Hales and city commissioners started using another entrance.

Hales' response was the roughest treatment of the homeless since the dark days of Mayor Frank Ivancie in the early 1980s. He hesitated for a month to use the city's camping ban—then employed it only where he'd heard the most complaints from businesses.

The sweep began at City Hall but soon spread. Police arrived at a sidewalk outside a soup kitchen to haul away mattresses and bedding. They told residents of a makeshift cardboard-box-and-tent city next to the Eastbank Esplanade they had 24 hours to pack their belongings.

Hales decided to make sure protesters wouldn't return to City Hall by inviting food carts into the front courtyard where protesters had been sleeping.

Social-services advocates and Multnomah County officials—who help fund many programs to help the homeless—say he didn't consult them. Nor did he offer any plans or incentives as part of his sweep. Hales didn't have an aide assigned to lead those issues, and his office spontaneously assigned one to the job in the middle of a staff meeting.

"It just caught us off-guard," says Street Roots executive director Israel Bayer. "If you're going to bring the stick, you have to bring the carrot."

The lack of strategy continues to make matters worse. In September, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced a deal to move the Old Town homeless camp Right 2 Dream Too under a bridge in the Pearl District—a move Hales endorsed and helped to broker behind the scenes. In doing so, the city created its second homeless camp on public property—without any long-term plan.

Pearl District residents and developers were livid—and Hales changed course only after real-estate developer (and major Hales campaign contributor) Homer Williams offered to find another site.

Hales stands by his approach. He says he now wants to work with Oregon legislators to develop a larger strategy.

“We can’t be on an island of better services in a state of denial,” Hales says. 


WWeek 2015

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