PBOT Director Tom Miller was offered City of Tucson transportation director job

Oregon Active Transportation Summit-35-2
PBOT Director Tom Miller at the Oregon
Active Transportation Summit in
April 2012.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The bike blog is reporting that current Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Tom Miller applied for a job to lead the City of Tucson, Arizona’s transportation department. According to publisher Michael McKisson, Miller beat out all the other candidates and was initially offered the position, but city officials rescinded the offer and have now selected another candidate.

Here’s more from McKisson:

Tucson has a new transportation director, but only after rescinding an offer to Portland’s head of transportation… Michael Graham, the City of Tucson’s public information officer, confirmed yesterday that the position was originally offered on contingency to Portland’s transportation director Tom Miller. Graham said the city reevaluated the situation and determined that Cole would be a better fit for the position.

The City of Tucson has instead hired the former head of transportation for El Paso, Texas, Daryl Cole.

McKisson told me via email this morning that, given Miller’s perspective on prioritizing bicycle and transit access over motor vehicle access, “The bike community in Tucson is going to be really disappointed the city didn’t hire him.” He added that, given what he has learned about the hiring process, whatever happened to make the City of Tucson rescind their offer will ultimately, “Really setback Tucson’s goal of becoming a really great place to ride, walk and live.”

“The hope in the bike community will be that Cole will be able to move us forward,” says McKisson, “but it’s clear Miller would have made alternative transportation a priority.”

The Public Information Officer for the City of Tucson, Michael Graham, confirmed for me this morning that Miller was given a contingent offer before they did one last review of all the candidates and changed their mind. “Basically,” said Graham, “We took a second look at the candidate, and Daryl Cole from El Paso was a better fit for the current needs of our transportation department.”

Reached for comment this morning (he’s currently out of town on vacation), Miller said (via text message) that he was simply testing the market. Here’s the full response from Miller:

“It’s good to test the marketplace occasionally and I was flattered by Tucson’s offer. In the end, it was not the right fit. My core interest is developing and maintaining a transportation system that benefits all users in service to a truly sustainable city. Sustainable in every sense of the word. Tucson is beginning to try, but Portland is an international leader. For 40+ years we’ve have the courage to go a different – and better – way.”

It’s not difficult to understand why Miller might have applied for the job. Miller was appointed to the job by Mayor Sam Adams (for whom he worked as Chief of Staff since Adams’ became a City Commissioner in 2004), and some feel he could be vulnerable when a new mayor takes office. Mayoral candidate Charlie Hales has hinted that, if elected, he might make a change at the PBOT Director position.

Some Portland pundits and insiders have questioned the relatively young Miller’s experience in leading an agency with 700 employees and a $275 million annual budget. The fact that the City of Tucson was set to hire Miller, after a national search, could be seen as a validation that he does have the transportation and management chops to do the job. However, the fact that he applied for the job at all raises questions. Would he have left Portland (thus avoiding a potentially ugly transfer of power and questions over his job status) if the Tucson job proved to be “the right fit”? Is he still committed to Portland?

Miller says he’s not going anywhere. “I want to continue building on that bold legacy, here at home in Portland.”

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