Mayor Hales asks PBOT Director Tom Miller to resign – Updated

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.

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