Portland Water Bureau director David Shaff, who oversaw controversial spending and successfully defended the city's utilities from a coup by business customers, is retiring.
Shaff announced his departure, planned for this summer, in an email to Portland City Council this morning.
"I cannot describe how proud I am to have worked for the Portland Water Bureau these past ten years," Shaff writes. "While there have been some bumps and frustrations along the way, I can easily say that I regard my time here as challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling."
City Commissioner Nick Fish says he is "surprised" by Shaff's decision, "but I respect his choice."
Fish will conduct a national search for Shaff's replacement—the second simultaneous search for a utility director. (Bureau of Environmental Services director Dean Marriott resigned under duress in January.)
Former City Commissioner Randy Leonard appointed Shaff, a staffer in his office, to oversee the Water Bureau in 2005. Shaff implemented a series of Leonard's pet projects—many, like a rehab of the decrepit Rose Festival building, with little or no connection to water.
Shaff later conceded much of this spending was a mistake. "I wouldn't have done the Rose Festival building," Shaff told WW last year. "If it were entirely up to me, I would have bulldozed the thing. That wasn't Council's finest hour."
Such projects drew the wrath of water customers, as water rates climbed more than 43 percent over the past five years.
In 2011, ratepayers filed a $127 million lawsuit challenging bureau spending. Last year, some of the city's largest industrial water users joined forces with activists to try to wrest the Portland's water and sewer utilities from City Hall with a ballot initiative.
During that campaign, Shaff was often the target of invective from activists opposed to the bureau's most costly project: disconnecting the open-air reservoirs at Washington Park and Mount Tabor and replacing them with underground tanks.
But Shaff successfully fought back the coup. Last May, voters crushed by 73 percent to 26 percent a measure transferring rate-setting authority to an elected board.