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Choosing a new PBOT Director

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 23rd, 2013 at 12:37 pm

bike rack at City Hall
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

As I type this, the City of Portland is going through the final stages of selecting a new director of the transportation bureau. This morning at City Hall, myself and over a dozen other citizen stakeholders got to "meet and greet" the final three candidates being considered for the job.

Our involvement in vetting the candidates has been just one part of the selection process. Yesterday each of them went through a grueling interview with eight different people while Portland City Commissioners and their staffers stood and observed in the background. This is all part of Mayor Hales' promise to do a thorough, nationwide search for a new PBOT director. Back in January Hales asked former PBOT Director Tom Miller to resign and Hales made it clear during his mayoral campaign that he wasn't comfortable with how Miller was hand-picked by his former boss, Sam Adams.

According to Hales, the City received 44 applications for the job from all over the country. Now there are just three people left.

This morning's event began with coffee, pastries and socializing in the Pettygrove Room in City Hall. All three candidates were in the room and it was a nice, informal way to make their acquaintance. Then the candidates left and we were briefed by City staffers on how the process would work. Each stakeholder in the room (from a wide variety of transportation-related groups and neighborhood associations) was assigned a number from one to three.

We then split off into various rooms where the small, four-person groups sat down face-to-face with each candidate. It was an open conversation and we were allowed to ask anything we wanted. The idea was to learn more about the candidate and get a sense for their relevant experience, personality, and leadership style. I think I speak for everyone in my group in saying that the discussion was very substantive. We asked the candidates everything from how they'd raise new revenue to how they'd move Portland beyond its current state of stagnation.

After these small group discussions we then re-grouped and shared our impressions about each candidate while City staffers took notes to capture our feedback.

Overall I came away very impressed — both by the process itself and the candidates. The details of the candidates are confidential at this point; but I can share that all three of them are highly qualified and quite impressive. A final selection will be made soon and it will definitely be a tough choice. As one of the stakeholders said at the end of this morning's meeting, "I don't envy the mayor."

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  • Gerik May 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    As the person who said that I don't envy the mayor this choice, I can attest to Jonathan's account of the morning. I am very impressed with the qualifications of the candidates we spoke with and I'm looking forward to meeting our new PBOT Director soon!

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  • Todd Boulanger May 23, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Crossin' my fingers that the pick will become the Nation's next Janette Sadik-Khan!

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    • Kirk May 23, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Yes! I wholeheartedly agree.

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    • anon1q2w3e4r5t May 24, 2013 at 12:16 pm

      I'm uncrossin' my fingers and will hope for a genuine visionary to be selected, but it's not going to happen because to be a genuine visionary requires skills beyond that of a politician/bureaucrat.

      All of the positive things Sadik-Khan has done so far would have been done by any livable streets advocate if given the opportunity. Her final act, which she thinks will be her lasting legacy as NYC's transportation commissioner, will actually be a trojan horse that threatens the long-term goals of the livable cities/streets community. It's not obvious how at this time because the story is still unravelling, but I can guarantee you when the end is reached there will be twist and everything will be made clear.

      NO ON BIKE SHARING!

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  • spare_wheel May 23, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    My image of the questioning process:

    Stakeholder: What is the preferred facility on a low-speed two lane road?
    A. World-class cycle track.
    B. World-class cycle track.

    Candidate: I would pick C. Infrastructure should be designed according to...

    Stakeholder (interrupts): Sorry sir there is no C.

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    • Todd Edelman May 23, 2013 at 10:55 pm

      C. If this is a 20mph road the Dutch interviewee would protest.

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      • spare_wheel May 24, 2013 at 8:53 am

        As they should. Unfortunately, in PDX we are experts at building physically separated infrastructure where its not needed (and not building it where it is needed).

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    • Chris I May 24, 2013 at 8:59 am

      Has anyone proposed cycle tracks on low-speed, low traffic streets in Portland?

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      • ScottB May 24, 2013 at 9:37 am

        No one.

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  • Andrew K May 23, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    wow, that sounds like a nightmare for the people looking to fill the job. Still, I like that Hales is going through this process and I am crossing my fingers Portland will get a PBOT director who can get us past the "low hanging fruit" mentality and really start some ambitious new projects.

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  • Adam May 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    That is a fantastic cover photo by the way. Very well done.

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    • Craig Harlow May 23, 2013 at 4:18 pm

      Amen. Nice, Jonathan.

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  • sw resident May 23, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    How do you become a citizen stakeholder who is unelected yet is allowed to vet candidates for one of the biggest jobs in this city?

    This has all the hallmarks of corruption. Portland has always had tons of back room handing out of jobs away from the public except here it is given a happy liberal face. Its Chicago on the Willamette.

    "The details of the candidates are confidential at this point; but I can share that all three of them are highly qualified and quite impressive." This is pathetic. Why is a "journalist" keeping these details away from the public? They are highly qualified and impressive you say - by what measure? Give the public some facts and let us decide. You sound like a paid off mouthpiece for City Hall.

    Jonathan by not divulging the names and details of this meeting you attended you have thrown aside your self-proclaimed role as a "journalist" and have instead shown yourself to be another political player who is unaccountable to the public. Are you a politician and bureaucrat now? For whom do you (an unelected individual of any government body or association) purport to speak for when in these meetings? Will you even tell your readers what questions you asked or do we just take your word for it that you are not trading favors or whatever.

    You see, without facts and quotes we really have no idea what the substance of this meeting was or what your role in this process is. Report the news or quit calling yourself a journalist. You are impugning your own integrity on this one.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 23, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Hi sw resident,

      I realize this might seem like an odd situation, so I'll try to answer your questions...

      How do you become a citizen stakeholder who is unelected yet is allowed to vet candidates for one of the biggest jobs in this city?

      We are all citizen stakeholders... And some of us take a more active role than others. I cannot speak to why I was invited, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that I have covered PBOT closer than anyone for several years now. I also have a history of working with PBOT on various issues and I do try to help them when I can (although that "help" has gotten more complicated in recent years as I've shifted a bit from cheerleader with a blog to doing more objective reporting.)

      This has all the hallmarks of corruption. Portland has always had tons of back room handing out of jobs away from the public except here it is given a happy liberal face. Its Chicago on the Willamette.

      I disagree. This was just one part of the process and like my story says, there was a big cross-section of citizen activists/advocates/stakeholders in the room.

      "The details of the candidates are confidential at this point; but I can share that all three of them are highly qualified and quite impressive." This is pathetic. Why is a "journalist" keeping these details away from the public? They are highly qualified and impressive you say - by what measure? Give the public some facts and let us decide. You sound like a paid off mouthpiece for City Hall.

      I understand your concerns and all I can say is that I'm not a traditional journalist. I have always been a hybrid of a citizen advocate and a journalist. I realize not everyone understands or appreciates my position; but I think I can play an very important role in being a bridge between the community and city government by documenting what I see/hear/learn.

      Jonathan by not divulging the names and details of this meeting you attended you have thrown aside your self-proclaimed role as a "journalist" and have instead shown yourself to be another political player who is unaccountable to the public.

      In this particular case, the confidentiality was something I was willing to honor in exchange for being part of the process. I disagree with you completely that I'm now somehow "unaccountable to the public."

      Are you a politician and bureaucrat now? For whom do you (an unelected individual of any government body or association) purport to speak for when in these meetings?

      Nothing about me has changed. I've been going to meetings at City Hall and PBOT since the beginning and I've always reported back to the community about them in some fashion. And as always, I always only speak for myself of course.

      Will you even tell your readers what questions you asked or do we just take your word for it that you are not trading favors or whatever.

      Once someone has been chosen for the job, my understanding so far is that I'll be able to share more about what was discussed at this morning's event. As for "trading favors" .. I'm not quite sure I understand what you're getting at. I don't play games/trades/politics. Everyone at City Hall knows that.

      You see, without facts and quotes we really have no idea what the substance of this meeting was or what your role in this process is. Report the news or quit calling yourself a journalist. You are impugning your own integrity on this one.

      I did happen to take a lot of notes and recorded everything that was said by each of the three candidates. I expect to be able to share some of that once a selection is made. I explained my role in the process in the above story. You can choose to believe me or not. In terms of integrity, I feel fine about this event and my role in it. I think the community will ultimately benefit from me being there... even if I never reported another word about it.

      Thanks for your comment.

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    • sw resident May 23, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      And from the Society of Professional Journalists website http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp:

      "Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility."

      Seek the Truth and Report it:
      "Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

      Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public's business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection."

      Act Independently ("Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know."):

      "—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
      — Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
      — Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
      — Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
      — Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
      — Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage."

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 23, 2013 at 3:54 pm

        sw resident,

        I'm not a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

        I prefer to make my own rules because I run my own business (unlike other journalists who work for an editor and a publisher who owns them).

        Thanks.

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    • jimbobpdx May 23, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      Dear sw resident -Have you wandered over here by mistake? Perhaps you were looking for Oregonlive to comment on some TriMet perfidy. Or maybe flouride or guns. Bike Portland is an advocacy and information site about bicycles and related matters. The proprietor makes no bones whatsoever about the advocacy part. Agree with him or disagree, he pretty much lays it all out.

      **Portions of this comment have been deleted. jimbopdx, I appreciate your comment, but please don't insult sw resident. Thanks -Jonathan**

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    • wsbob May 23, 2013 at 7:55 pm

      "...The details of the candidates are confidential at this point; ..." maus/bikeportland

      Given that information about what would appear to be the city's request, I don't see a problem with how details of the meeting have been reported here so far.

      From the reporting here, I guess I'm am kind of wondering though, if the appointment is through a vote of the full city council, or ultimately, a decision made by the mayor. It seems the latter, given that's how Adams picked his PBOT director. On this count, having brought in all these citizen stakeholders to scope out the candidates, and having the candidates carefully interviewed by city officials, Hales seems to be doing a great job.

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  • Todd Boulanger May 23, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    ...so SW Resident are you recommending...that it would have been better for Jonathan to witness the process without being directly active in the interview process and becoming an agent for the city (HR department/ Mayor's office)? Perhaps it would have been a better role. I doubt Jonathan is a member of SPJ, so there is little to do in that regard per your post of their "rules". I do not think that Jonathan has ever said he is unbiased and had adopted the SPJ code.

    There are many flavours of reporting and journalism...and often in larger traditional newspapers they are segregated in different sections (News, Op-Ed, and Automotive). With BikePortland it can be a bit confusing with a single voice wearing all hats and by there not being bright red lines by section (perhaps there should be a page 3 for this type of journalism at BikePortland?).

    [Those he reviews buy ads from him for exposure...and he has to temper his review of local agents in order keep access to information and income. Similar to most small town papers or small media outlets focusing on a trade.]

    And Jonathan is attempting to say he is practicing "Advocacy Journalism".

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advocacy_journalism:
    "Some advocacy journalists reject that the traditional ideal of objectivity is possible in practice, either generally, or due to the presence of corporate sponsors in advertising. Some feel that the public interest is better served by a diversity of media outlets with a variety of transparent points of view, or that advocacy journalism serves a similar role to muckrakers or whistleblowers."

    I guess the question is it better to know his bias or to go back to the days when these events were not covered or covered in a 2 page newsletter that comes out every 4 or so weeks, as it was before 2005 for Bicycling in Portland/ Vancouver region.

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  • longgone May 23, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Wow.

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  • Jim Lee May 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    As I have remarked before, the only stakeholders I recognize are Arthur Holmwood (one extremely large stake in the cemetery) and Buffy Summers (many small stakes in her high-school backpack).

    Any other use of the term is a euphemism for "vested interest."

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  • Kevin Wagoner May 23, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    That is awesome that you got to participate. It is also awesome that you hint (maybe not so much of a hint) the candidates are good. Maybe Hales has turned the corner and you are right!

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  • Todd Edelman May 23, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    As long as all readers know that Jonathan is a blogger with journalistic tendencies and/or an advocacy journalist there is no problem. I have had some discussions with Clarence Eckerson about this not being absolutely clear with Streetfilms -- not sure if he agrees but he gets it.

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  • ScottB May 24, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Jonathan, can you divulge who was there representing SW?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 24, 2013 at 10:15 am

      Sorry ScottB... Since the whole thing was confidential, I'd feel better not mentioning any names at this time. Like I said above, I'm sure once the selection is made the Mayor's office will have not problems with me sharing the names of the people involved in the process.

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  • Granpa May 24, 2013 at 9:52 am

    [sarc] Jonathan, now that you are a political insider, how about spreading the wealth from that gushing stream of swag? [sarc - off]

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  • Jeremy May 24, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    @sw_resident: It's likely that the individuals names, details, and current occupations are being kept confidential at this point because they might not have informed their current employers that they are interviewing for other positions. This is very common in both private and public sector search processes. It's not an election after all, it's a job search.

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