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Mayor Hales asks PBOT Director Tom Miller to resign – Updated

Posted by on January 2nd, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Oregon Active Transportation Summit-34

Tom Miller speaking at a conference
in Salem back in April.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Willamette Week reported on New Year’s Eve that Mayor Charlie Hales has asked Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) Director Tom Miller for his resignation.

According to the Willamette Week, the resignation letter is due on February 4th, which is the day city bureau budgets are due. However, The Oregonian reported today that Miller has already handed in the letter. What this means for the ongoing budget process (which Miller has spearheaded), remains to be seen (Miller will retain his post until February 4th.) Miller has not made any official comment about the news yet, but we’re expecting to hear more from him this week.

This move by Hales isn’t a complete surprise; but it seems to have been much more abrupt than expected. Back in March while on the campaign trail, Hales told The Oregonian that he didn’t plan on keeping Miller around if he won the election. “This isn’t personal,” he told The Oregonian, “There are major issues in the bureau, and it needs a fresh and fully qualified leader.” (Mayoral candidate Eileen Brady also called for a change in PBOT leadership.)

Hales has expressed two main reasons for his desire for new leadership at PBOT. The first is that Miller was appointed to the position in January 2011 by his former boss, Mayor Sam Adams. The lack of a national search to find the most qualified candidate for such a high profile position didn’t strike Hales the right way. In April, he told us that, “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.” In his defense, Miller has said that it’s common practice for bureau chiefs to be appointed.

The other reason Hales wanted Miller to move on is a perception that the two have a different approach to managing the transportation system. As we reported back in April, Hales’ campaign director told us that given Miller and Hales’ different views on the direction of PBOT, Miller might simply resign. What those different views are has yet to be very well defined. Hales campaigned on a “roads first” platform and wanted to create the perception among voters that he would get “back to basics.” But what exactly Hales means by these phrases — and whether or not he means bicycle access improvements will be given a lower priority during his administration — still isn’t clear.

For his part, Miller saw the writing on the wall. Back in July, he applied for a new job with the City of Tucson, Arizona. While that job never materialized, Miller still expected to be given a fair shake by Hales. He expected that Hales would come and give each bureau director a thorough review in order to judge their future based on performance, rather than politics. “I’m confident I’ll be judged based on my record, not on Sam’s record: That’s what I deserve, that’s what every bureau director deserves,” Miller told us in April. “Anything less would be purely political in nature and that’s not good for the city.”

In the end, it’s likely that Hales simply wants a fresh start. There is a lot of political baggage surrounding Mayor Adams, and Tom Miller — who served as Adams’ right-hand man for six years — is tied to that past whether he likes it or not.

We’ll have more on this story when PBOT and/or Tom Miller release their official statement.

UPDATE, 1/3:
The Oregonian has published Miller’s resignation letter. It reads in part: “You have made clear that your request for my resignation is in no way related to my performance, rather your desire to take the bureau in another direction.”

Also of note, if Mayor Hales would have simply asked Miller to go for no specific reason, Miller would have been guaranteed a severance package. However, since Miller resigned, he receives no severance.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • bike me January 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Pave Charlie! Pave!

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  • spare_wheel January 2, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    “whether or not he means bicycle access improvements will be given a lower priority during his administration”

    this strikes me as wishful thinking. i think its fairly clear that roads-first means cycle-tracks second (or 3rd, 4th, 5th…).

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 2, 2013 at 2:03 pm

      I think it’s more complicated than people think. I’m all for a “roads first” approach as long as road projects include necessary bike access improvements.

      One of the problems I have so far with Charlie is that he has been vague about what he means by “roads first” and about what he feels needs to be changed (policy-wise) at PBOT. Time will tell.

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    • Spiffy January 2, 2013 at 3:24 pm

      cycle-tracks around here have traditionally been on roads, so one doesn’t always mean the other isn’t in the works…

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  • Andrew K January 2, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    I might be giving Hales too much credit, but if he is smart his “roads first” approach could also mean some very important and strategic bike improvements. After all, many on this very board have made the argument that if you are going to repave or repair a major roadway, you might as well improve the bike access at the same time.

    If I were mayor this is what I would do. Anyone who complains too much attention is given to bikes (**ahem** Oregonian) could be quickly shot down because you would be working to improve conditions for everyone.

    As for Tom Miller, I am not surprised by this. Whether it’s fair to Tom Miller or not, one can’t deny that anything associated with Sam Adams is pretty much poison at this stage. That sucks for Mr. Miller, but that is the reality of politics.

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    • nuovorecord January 3, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      I tend to agree. “Roads first” is not the same as “cars first.”

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  • Spiffy January 2, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    considering that Willamette Week also reported that Hales will prioritize bike projects first then I think we’re doing ok…


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    • Terry D January 2, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      This is just accepting an ODOT grant that was negotiated with Sam Adam’s as part of funding the “East Portland in Motion” initiative. It is just as likely that Hales will use this money, and the projects being funded by it, as “proof he is not anti-bike” then move PBOT’s general funds, which the mayor has control over, from bike improvements to road paving projects in other parts of the city. Only time will tell as Charlie Hales has been intentionally ambiguous on what “back to basics” means.

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  • John R. January 2, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    “”Anything less would be purely political in nature and that’s not good for the city.” Given the nature of his qualifications and original appointment, this is pretty rich.

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  • Hart Noecker January 2, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Charlie Hales: Pave, Baby, Pave!

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    • John R. January 2, 2013 at 8:32 pm


      The election is over, your team lost. Have some class. You do a disservice to Jefferson with your comments (not just here, everywhere).

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      • Spiffy January 3, 2013 at 7:35 am

        that’s like saying we can’t make fun of “drill baby drill” just because Obama won…

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      • Hart Noecker January 3, 2013 at 8:03 am

        My comment had nothing to do with the election and everything to do with Hales’ prioritizing 60 miles of paving roads for cars. You do a disservice to ‘your team’ by incorrectly inferring meaning where there was none.

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        • Granpa January 3, 2013 at 8:34 am

          At a Hales fundraiser that I attended, the then candidate stated that he intends to pave many of the dirt roads in the SE neighborhoods. I live near Woodstock where these sloppy mud puddle rights-of-way are an irresistible nuisance to late night 4-wheel drive joy riders. Mr Hales is an environmentalist and has no intention of laying asphalt over natural areas. His plan is to incrementally address poorly maintained City property.

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          • Hart Noecker January 3, 2013 at 9:33 am

            If Hales was any sort of environmentalist, he would have received the endorsements of the Sierra Club, the OLCV, and Bike Walk Vote. He received none of them. Guess who did.

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            • dan January 3, 2013 at 11:58 am

              I guess the guy with the anger management problem received those endorsements. Too bad I couldn’t bring myself to hold my nose and vote for him.

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        • Sbrock January 3, 2013 at 9:55 am

          What “team” is that?

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  • dwainedibbly January 2, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Welcome back, Jonathan. Mrs Dibbly & I enjoyed your tweets while you were away.

    Any idea how Hales feels about Complete Streets? If he embraces that concept, then I have many fewer problems with a “roads first” policy. I worry that I’m not going to like the answer to that question, though.

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  • BURR January 2, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    If ‘Roads First’ means they will actually repave all the bike boulevards, then I’m all for it.

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  • Patrick January 2, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    I have hope that Charlie will turn out okay. His answer in this week’s WW makes me think we’ll be alright:

    WW: What’s something that Portland shouldn’t celebrate?

    CH: No planner from the city of Portland should be going to national conferences and bragging about how smart we are about urban planning in Portland until we have an actionable plan to make [Southeast] 122nd and Division a great place. And stuff has actually happened.

    Ditto about going to conferences and bragging while Jantzen Beach is a bunch of strip malls and lottery bars. We have a lot of work to do to make the hype about how livable Portland is true citywide.

    That sound like the words of someone who has a vision of the city I can get behind.

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    • Chris I January 3, 2013 at 7:07 am

      I disagree with his comments. SE 122nd and Division will never be a great place. The people that live there don’t want our definition of a “great place”. Great places are expensive, parking is a hassle; and those are the two biggest concerns for the vast majority of Americans, and Portlanders, for that matter. This city needs places like 122nd and Division, just like we need places like The Pearl and SE Hawthorne. We shouldn’t force the central Portland lifestyle on east Portland, because for the most part, they don’t want it.

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      • jocko January 3, 2013 at 10:33 am

        Uh Chris many people who read this blog live “out there” and want all of the same stuff that central portland wants.

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        • Chris I January 3, 2013 at 11:48 am

          You want your rents to rise to the point where you can’t afford to live in the space you do now?

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          • nuovorecord January 3, 2013 at 1:28 pm

            You’re making the (false) assumption that by improving conditions for walking and cycling, you automatically make housing costs unaffordable. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. There is a lot that can be done to improve neighborhoods in East Portland, without gentrifying them.

            Maybe 122nd won’t be a “great” place, but it can be a “better” place.

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      • Beth January 4, 2013 at 4:49 pm

        Who doesn’t want safer streets, better street lighting, clearer crosswalk signals and wider sidewalks? Who doesn’t want pot-holed side streets paved and made safer (and less attractive to joyriders)? Who doesn’t want to make it easier and safer for their kids to walk or bike to school?

        I’d go out on a limb and say that LOTS of folks want these things — regardless of the unspoken social, race or class issues that often lie below the surface of such assumptions. Let’s be careful not to paint with so broad a brush when pondering what someone else wants.

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    • Chris I January 3, 2013 at 9:59 am

      Do you think the CRC project will do anything to improve Jantzen Beach? Because Hales supports it, albeit a revised version that he does not provide details on.

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  • Ted Buehler January 2, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    On Charlie’s official page at portlandoregon.gov, it touts

    “At the Transportation Bureau, Charlie Hales championed light rail expansion, streetcar development and safe bicycle routes to reduce traffic congestion and improve the environment.”

    If you want to see Charlie keep up these priorities as mayor, or focus more on bicycle projects, you could send him a personal message expressing your preferences.

    I don’t see a city email address for him anywhere yet, but you can facebook message him at http://www.facebook.com/charlie.hales.3?fref=pb or send him snail mail at city hall, 1221 SW 4th, Portland OR 97204

    Squeaky wheel gets the grease, folks.
    Ted Buehler

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    • Andrew K January 3, 2013 at 7:40 am

      I could not agree with this more. Every single person who comments on this blog regularly should be writing a letter to the mayor at least once a week.

      Any mayor, whether it’s Hales or someone else, is going to take action on the issues that get the loudest attention from the public. That is their job. We need to be loud and thoughtful with our comments and we need to be front and center.

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    • Steve B. January 3, 2013 at 10:43 am

      Well said, Ted!

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  • Steve B. January 3, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Thanks Tom Miller for your leadership! It was sure nice to have someone in the Director position who really understands the need for a balanced and multi-modal transportation system. Here’s hoping the new Director picks up from where Tom left off.

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  • Ted Buehler January 3, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Yes — thanks, Tom!

    I vividly remember the fall 2008 Traffic and Transportation Class presentations, when Wren Schiffler made an impassioned plea to put up stop signs at the “uncontrolled” intersections in Cully/Parkrose. She related that she had been riding her bike and was nearly T-Boned by a pickup truck, because neither party realized the intersection didn’t have stop signs anywhere.

    Sue Keil completely blew Wren off, saying that the city’s data showed that crashes were not a problem, and that if Wren had been clobbered by a truck, it was within the acceptable level of crashes at those intersections.

    Sue had no concept of the unique safety problems faced by bicyclists, and the retrofitting that would need to be done in Portland _proactively_ in order to maintain existing levels of safety as the bicycle mode share increases.

    Tom has been a breath of fresh air.

    If Hales’s national search doesn’t turn up any highly qualified directors that have experience in the Bike/Ped realm, maybe he can talk Tom into staying on for another couple years ;^)

    Ted Buehler

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    • are January 3, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      there is already a plague of two-way stops on portland neighborhood streets. i frankly prefer the unregulated intersection, but if you simply must prioritize one street over another, the appropriate traffic control device is a “yield” sign.

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      • Chris I January 3, 2013 at 7:19 pm

        It’s a slippery slope situation. In an ideal world, all uncontrolled intersections would be treated as a yield by all motorists. As I have seen while riding around the Cully neighborhood, this is not the case. Motorists are so used to seeing red lights and stop signs, that many treat these intersections as if they have the right-of-way. It’s unfortunate, but the only way to make these neighborhoods safe is to add 2-way stop signs. The silver lining? Stopping every two blocks does help slow down cut-through traffic, and bike boulevards can be designed without stops, making them a faster alternative.

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        • Ted Buehler January 3, 2013 at 9:32 pm

          On that note, I noticed some new stop signs out around Shaver and 66th. So intersection control is slowly fleshing out those Parkrose areas.

          I’ve always tried to be vigilant, and had never had any problems until about 2 weeks ago at NE Rodney and Holman. I ride through there about 3x a week, and always assumed it was stop-controlled for Holman. (Most of them south of Rosa Parks are stop-controlled, though I knew the next one, Highland and Rodney, was uncontrolled). Anyhow, it caught me off-guard to have a pickup sail through on Holman as I approached on Rodney.

          Whoever is adding stop signs to unsignalized intersections at PBOT, thanks! (& thanks to Tom for not being the stick-in-the-mud that Sue was and blocking progress).

          Ted Buehler

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  • Babygorilla January 3, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Miller wouldn’t have received any severance. That new severance law only applies to bureau hires after July 2011. Miller was hired January 2011. His resignation is not a selfless act saving the city any money. Its just saving him face for future employment.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson January 3, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Its too bad Sam waited for 6 years to give Tom the reins at PBOT. I never understood that.
    Portlanders chief concerns vis a vis roads are safety and congestion. Making more roadways safe for biking addresses both problems at a relatively low cost.
    Paving the local street in front of one’s house should remain largely the responsibility of local residents if they so choose. Many prefer the retain “God’s own speed bumps” aka potholes.

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  • Ted Buehler January 4, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Charlie Hales, Mayor
    Commissioner of Finance and Administration
    City Hall @ 1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 340, 97204
    Phone: (503)823-4120
    e-mail: mayorhales@portlandoregon.gov


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  • J January 4, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Ummm. Chris. There is very rarely an exact match between what a community offers and what its residents want, especially in disenfranchised communities like mine. We have lousy, unsafe infrastructure in East County, but not because it’s what we want.

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