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Wheeler to stagger bureau assignments to shape city government
Mayor-elect also said he was concerned by the recent forecast from the City Budget Office that said the council is spending money faster than it is coming in, despite record revenue growth because of the strong local economy. The forecast said the council will have to cut $4 million in spending over the next five years to balance its books, in part because it has recently approved approximately $12 million in new unfunded programs.
Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler intends to set and control the direction of city government when he takes office in January through a staggered bureau assignment process.
During a Wednesday morning interview with the Portland Tribune editorial board, Wheeler said he has had many meetings with the remaining members of the City Council, Commissioner-elect Chloe Eudaly, and city bureau directors since being elected mayor at the May 2016 primary election.
Wheeler said he has specific ideas for the direction he wants many agencies to take, which he has discussed with them, and will announce his initial bureau assignments on Jan. 3. Wheeler said he will then assume control of all bureaus in April, when the council process for adopting the next budget is underway. He will reassign them in May after the budget that takes effect on July 1 is approved.
The reassignments might change in May, Wheeler said, depending on the progress he sees each commissioner make towards achieving his goals.
"Depending on how things have been going, there might be changes, if there are problems of leadership," Wheeler said.
Assigning bureaus is one of the few powers of the mayor under Portland's system of government, where each member of the council oversees a set of bureaus. Although it is not unusual for mayors to assign themselves all bureaus during at least their first budget process, making an initial three-month assignment may never have happened before.
Although rumors are swirling within City Hall about Wheeler's initial assignments, he declined to discuss most of them. Wheeler said he would assign himself the Portland Police Bureau because he made improving the relationship between the police and the community a top priority of his campaign.
And he suggested he will take the Portland Housing Bureau from Commissioner Dan Saltzman because it is essential to addressing the issues of homelessness and housing affordability, which were also top priorities of his campaign.
In response to a direct question, Wheeler declined to say whether he would allow Commissioner Amanda Fritz to keep the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. A recent audit by the City Auditor's Office found it riddled with administrative and management problems, in part because it has been many unrelated responsibilities.
Even if Wheeler keeps all the bureaus currently under Mayor Charlie Hales, who is leaving the council at the end of the year, two other important bureaus will need to be initially reassigned. They are the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the Portland Office of Emergency Communication, which operates the 9-1-1 system. Both are currently overseen by Commissioner Steve Novick, who was defeated by Eudaly and is also leaving at the end of the year.
On the subject of the budget, Wheeler said he was concerned by the recent forecast from the City Budget Office that said the council is spending money faster than it is coming in, despite record revenue growth because of the strong local economy. The forecast said the council will have to cut $4 million in spending over the next five years to balance its books, in part because it has recently approved approximately $12 million in new unfunded programs.
"I have some very deep concerns about the state of the budget. We need to focus on what works and fund it, not just on what is popular," said Wheeler.