In her first 100 days at Portland City Hall, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly has shown two longtime bureau directors the door.
She's also given them generous going-away presents.
When Eudaly pushed out Office of Neighborhood Involvement director Amalia Alarcón de Morris and Bureau of Development Services director Paul Scarlett, they both got a year's salary as severance pay.
That doesn't have to happen. In 2000, voters approved a charter change stripping bureau directors hired thereafter of civil service protections, yet in the past two decades began awarding severance packages to bureau directors.
But those golden parachutes are the norm at City Hall: Since 2002, the city has spent more than $1 million to change leadership in the bureaus, even though the city departments are run by at-will employees, meaning they can be dismissed for any—or no—reason.
The $144,000 the city agreed to pay Alarcón de Morris was such a steep figure that Eudaly's staff has begun to question whether the tradition is necessary.
"Maybe this is the flashpoint that calls into question, is this the best policy?" chief of staff Marshall Runkel told KOIN-TV on March 23.
But change would be difficult under the city's form of government, in which oversight of bureaus can shift at the mayor's discretion to different commissioners.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who previously oversaw ONI, gave Alarcón de Morris a rave review of her job performance in January, even after an audit exposed management problems at the bureau.
The Oregonian reported on that performance review last month, and first examined the city's fund for departing employees in 2015. Fritz couldn't be reached for comment. Eudaly's office declined further comment. Mayor Ted Wheeler's spokesman says the mayor is interested in finding efficiencies.
Employment lawyers say the size of a severance payment to avoid a discrimination claim depends on the facts of the case, with job performance reviews being one factor.
"A year is a reasonable severance package if the city wants to move on and ensure that no litigation is going to commence," says employment lawyer Kyle Busse. "A year's severance is a reasonable amount to pay someone who was respected by peers and supervisors."
Bureau of Environmental Services
Bureau of Development Services
Amalia Alarcón de Morris
Office of Neighborhood Involvement
Bureau of Planning
Office for Community Technology
Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund
Office of Government Relations
Office of Communications and Networking
Bureau of Transportation
Bureau of Housing and Community Development
Maria Lisa Johnson
Office of Human Relations