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Eileen Brady and Charlie Hales clarify stance on PBOT Director Tom Miller’s future

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Two candidates for Portland mayor — Eileen Brady (L) and Charlie Hales (R) — have commented about the future of PBOT Director Tom Miller (center) (Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Back in March, The Oregonian’s Beth Slovic reported that mayoral candidates Eileen Brady and Charlie Hales planned to fire current Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Tom Miller. (The other leading candidate, Jefferson Smith, said he felt it was too soon to talk about hiring and firing and that, “it feels premature to pick and choose among directors.”)

“New leadership would establish a different standard. I’d be surprised if people don’t understand that.”— Neel Pender, Brady campaign advisor

After those revelations in The Oregonian, we contacted Miller for his response. He said he was surprised to hear the candidates’ plans, because he hadn’t spoken to either of them at length about his job or the issues surrounding transportation in general. He added that he should be judged on his performance, saying that, “That’s what I deserve, that’s what every bureau director deserves… Anything less would be purely political in nature and that’s not good for the city.”

I’ve followed up with both Brady and Hales to better understand why they want to make a leadership change at PBOT. Brady is sticking to her comments (and she’s being advised by Sue Keil, who Miller replaced); but the Hales camp has now softened their position.

Eileen Brady told The Oregonian she would fire Miller “on day one.” Reached via phone, Brady campaign advisor Neel Pender told me that firing Miller is key to repair the “broken trust” they feels exists at PBOT. Miller was appointed to his position by Mayor Sam Adams (whom he worked for as chief of staff for many years), and Brady’s camp feels the lack of transparency and competition around the appointment is not how business should be done. Here’s how Pender puts it:

“It’s hard to re-instill trust in city government if we don’t have transparent processes to hire people to make sure that the public knows we’re hiring the most qualified people. If Tom was that person after going through that process, then fine, but that’s not what happened. So, new leadership would establish a different standard. I’d be surprised if people don’t understand that.”

Pender added that a Brady administration would open PBOT Director position up to a competitive search process.

“Yes she [former PBOT Director Sue Keil] is an advisor; but any insinuation that she was advocating for Tom Miller to be replaced, would be categorically false.”
— Neel Pender, Brady campaign advisor

After hearing from sources that Brady planned to replace Miller with former PBOT director Sue Keil (who left in retirement), and that Keil was advising Brady on transportation policy, I asked Pender if it was true.

Pender initially dodged the question, saying instead that there are “a lot of people” around the Brady campaign who offer advice on issues. He acknowledged that Keil and Brady had a meeting together and that Keil is a supporter but that he, “doesn’t know how actively engaged she is in the campaign.”

After we hung up, Pender called back a few minutes later to say, yes, Keil is an official advisor to the Brady campaign, but that any insinuation she was advocating for Tom Miller to be replaced would be “categorically false.” Pender added that mayors don’t have many “levers of control” and to the extent they have at-will positions, “You want to hire people that share your principles.”

“It’s hard to be clear on this decision if you’re not actually in the job working with him yet. ‘Fire’ is a bit extreme. That’s not who Charlie is.”
— Jessica Moskovitz, Hales campaign manager

I have also heard back from Charlie Hales. Last month he told The Oregonian that PBOT, “needs a fresh face and a fully qualified leader.” Today he clarified that, unlike Brady, he wouldn’t look to do it on day one; but that he too feels the appointment of Miller to PBOT’s top job without a competitive, national search, was a mistake.

“I firmly believe that there must be a change of process,” wrote Hales via email today. “As Mayor, I will insist that no one is hired to direct the city’s bureaus without a national search among top professionals in the field.”

Hales has made repaving roads a top campaign issue, and he says further reasoning for his belief Miller might not be a good fit atop PBOT is that, “Tom, himself, has said that he would not wish to continue if the city were to take a roads-first direction.”

It’s clear by Hales’ statements that he wants PBOT to take a more “roads first direction” than Miller is taking them and he’s uncomfortable with how Adams appointed Miller; but he still didn’t answer the question as to whether or not he’d actually fire Miller if he’s elected. Reached on the phone a few minutes ago to clarify that, Hales campaign manager Jessica Moskovitz said her impression is that, “Charlie and Jeff [Jefferson Smith] are much closer on this; but that it’s a good practice to re-hire [once a new mayor comes in].”

“The fact of the matter is,” Moskovitz continued, “It’s hard to be clear on this decision if you’re not actually in the job working with him yet. ‘Fire’ is a bit extreme. That’s not who Charlie is.” While not prepared to say if Hales would let Miller go or not, Moskovitz insinuated that given Miller and Hales’ different views on the direction of PBOT, Miller might simply resign.

— For more on how the mayoral candidates stand on bicycling issues, browse our Race for Mayor 2012 archives.