“She found someone she felt she could trust with day-to-day operation of the bureau and could have authority to act in her absence when she’s away. Greg knows this place from top to bottom like no one else.”
— Dylan Rivera, PBOT Communications Manager.
Six months after taking the helm of Portland’s transportation bureau, Director Leah Treat has appointed an agency veteran to take over several major responsibilities. Greg Jones, a planning and project management veteran who has worked for the City of Portland since 1980 is now the deputy director of PBOT. Treat made the appointment official earlier this month.
This is the first time PBOT has had a deputy director since it was formed in 1983. PBOT Communications Manager Dylan Rivera said via a telephone interview yesterday that the move is an acknowledgment of the immense task of managing “one of the largest and most complex bureaus in the City.” PBOT has over 700 employees and a $275 million (or so) annual budget that completes a diverse range of projects from a dizzying array of funding sources.
Back in November, Treat told The Oregonian that leading PBOT is a “big job” and that she’s “only one person.”
In a December 2nd email to PBOT staffers to announce the hire, Treat explained that the hiring of Jones would, “Free up some of my time to focus on strengthening our local, regional and state partnerships; it will ensure I focus on our Back to the Basics goals, and that there will be a person authorized to act in my absence.”
The “Back to Basics goals” Treat refers to is the focus on paving and maintenance that Mayor Charlie Hales ran on and that has become PBOT’s top priority program. The appointment of a deputy will also free Treat up to strengthen relationships with regional partners at key decision-making bodies like Metro’s JPACT and Portland City Council. The move also gives Treat more time to help Commissioner Novick on the upcoming transportation funding effort.
In his new role, the 60-year-old Jones will take over the day-to-day operations and management of PBOT. Jones’ has served in many capacities at the bureau through the years, most recently as manager of the Development & Capital Program where he oversaw 14 employees working on programs like Streetcar Projects & Operations, Development Services, and Right-of-Way Acquisition. Now he’ll also be in charge of the Transportation System Management group, which includes about a dozen employees and key programs like Transportation Options, Safe Routes to School, Transportation Planning, Traffic Design, Traffic Safety, Traffic Operations, and more.
In her December 2nd email, Treat tried to make it clear that Jones’ responsibilities don’t mean she’s out of the picture: “I want to make clear that I will still be heavily involved in the work plans for the groups Greg oversees. This change in no way diminishes my commitment to these groups nor should it be considered a demotion of their importance within the Bureau. We will continue to work together as one.”
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)
And Jones echoed that sentiment during our phone call yesterday: “Leah will continue to play a heavy role in any policy decision related to transportation planning. She’s still going to be heavily involved.”
Also during our conversation on Thursday, Jones referred to himself as “kind of a dinosaur” at PBOT given how long he’s been at the bureau.
In the late 1980s, under then Transportation Commissioner (and now U.S. Congressman) Earl Blumenauer, Jones was involved in the implementation of the Division Corridor Project which created the SE Clinton and Lincoln/Harrison system of traffic calmed streets that became the city’s first bicycle boulevards. Jones was also the lead planner at PBOT in 1997 when the city widened the Hawthorne Bridge deck to make more room for walking and biking. In 2001, Jones said he helped re-organize the transportation bureau and hasten their shift “toward the concept of complete streets.” Jones said the new approach to “build everything at the same time” is evident in older projects like Marine Drive’s extension into Rivergate that includes bike lanes, a sidewalk and a separated bike path through a major industrial area, and more current projects like the Cully Boulevard cycle track. Jones’ most recent work has focused on streetcar operations and management.
Asked how he gets around town, Jones said he usually takes the bus. As a resident of the Garden Home neighborhood in southwest Portland, Jones said he’s tried bicycling but, “It’s a little dicey from where I live.”
Jones will play a major role at PBOT and his appointment came without a national search or a formal recruitment process. Mayor Hales made political hay during his election campaign when former Mayor Sam Adams appointed his own chief of staff (Tom Miller) to the PBOT Director position. Hales forced Miller to resign back in January of this year and then initiated a national search for his replacement. Asked how Treat’s appointment of Jones looks in this context, PBOT’s spokesman Rivera said, “This is an appointment at the director’s discretion. She found someone she felt she could trust with day-to-day operation of the bureau and could have authority to act in her absence when she’s away. Greg knows this place from top to bottom like no one else.”
And Jones added that it’s common knowledge at PBOT he’s nearing the end of his career. “This allows Leah to work towards doing a national search for [for a deputy director]. As I get closer to retirement, she’ll have ability to do a more formal recruitment. This gets her a buffer to get some immediate work done.”
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I think this is a good move. Leah is new to Portland, so having someone with deep knowledge of the inner workings of PBOT and Portland in general will be a great help. Portland did not need the two top people on the org chart to be new to the region. If you look at Leah’s resume it is clear that she is good at developing revenue streams to fund projects. If we are going to get the bike and active transportation infrastructure we want, there will most certainly need to be more revenue coming into the PBOT on an ongoing basis.
A plus, is that Jones has some decent experience as a planner for the city, that could equip him well for this job.
A test, is whether that will be worth the added layer of management to PBOT, and the $140,000 salary and related expenses it will cost to have him on staff. PBOT on one hand, has complained it barely has enough money to resurface roads and fix potholes, compelling it to come up with short term make-do procedures…then turns around and spends a nice chunk of change to put another person on staff.
For this tradeoff, hopefully, he will be able to help Treat to devise some exciting, innovative ways to capture and inspire the public’s imagination, leading to dramatic improvements to the city’s transportation network.
A scapegoat for PBOT not having the guts to take out parking on Foster? “nearing the end of career” makes him the perfect sacrificial lamb for Leah Treat to throw under the bus when it all blows up. Somebody warn TriMet about upcoming undercarriage damage.
Sorry but I am tired of lip service from PBOT.
PBOT has had many shortcomings in recent memory, but this seems like a common sense approach for Leah and allows for a more orderly transition. On the other hand, PBOT really needs a top to bottom shakedown. What’s working, what’s not, yadda yadda yadda… before proposing a new tax to fill the budget holes.
I hate to be cynical, but really? Appointing a 30-year plus about-to-retire PBOT veteran to this position basically just amounts to a way to pad his pension benefits.
Let the games begin…….did not take long for Ms. Treat to show her colors to Portland…same MO in Washington DC and as the story goes Chicago…She is know nothing who knew somebody and that is how she became your Director in Portland…..she needs someone to “run” everything because she lacks the knowledge to do it herself. The City also needs a basis to say heh we do not commit Ageism in our hiring practices…isn’t there another “former” employee suing the city that is based on an ageism issue who the current Mayor and Commissioner also called a dino…………….Good luck with all this Portland…from the posts people seem very nice and quite kind and open-minded in Portland….as they say all things come to the light eventually….Ms. Treats prior runs are roughly 2 1/2 years in DC and Chicago……chances are good this will be at least 2 in Portland…..in DC there was also a big roll out of a “first 100 days” under Mayor Fenty…it was all smoke and mirrors and insignificant stuff mostly already achieved by the prior Mayor….looks like the same song has been brought to Portland…hopefully this time the goals are truly substantive, genuine and help the citizens of Portland.
Well let the games begin the Divvy Supplier Company from Montreal has declared bankruptcy……..it will be interesting to see how the Chicago “Divvy” experiment works out…Portland be careful what you wished for supposedly Ms. Treat has been hired by Divy/Alta to bring the same service to Portland……