Mayor’s cell phone use while driving violates City of Portland Administrative Rule

City of Portland Personnel Manual
Wheeler during yesterday’s city council meeting.

On Wednesday, Mayor Ted Wheeler took part in a city council meeting and spoke into his cell phone while driving. That behavior is not only dangerous but it sets a very bad example for a city that is reeling from record traffic deaths. With a double-fatal car crash in north Portland this morning our grim tally is up to 65 for the year, the highest in over three decades.

And while using a hands-free device while driving doesn’t technically run afoul of Oregon law, it turns out Mayor Wheeler was breaking a City of Portland Administrative Rule.

Wheeler was in clear violation of Administrative Rule 4.13 Vehicle Loss Control (7) as found in the Employee Behavior & Expectations Manual. “The purpose of this rule is to limit the City’s financial risk and to maximize the safety of drivers, passengers, and the public when vehicles are driven on City business,” the text of the rule states. “This rule applies to all city employees, volunteers and others authorized to drive on city business in any vehicle.”

Here’s the text of the specific rule that applies in this situation (emphasis mine):

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Mobile Electronic Device Limitations. No person shall drive on City business while operating a cell phone or other mobile electronic device, either with or without a hands-free accessory except as follows:

a) This prohibition does not apply to sworn members of the Bureau of Police and the Bureau of Fire and Rescue. Those bureaus shall be responsible for developing and enforcing separate work rules related to the use of mobile communication devices while driving and shall provide clear expectations for safe, approved use.

b) Employees may use a hands-free Mobile Electronic Device for GPS/wayfinding using the audible function on the device.

c) Making or receiving calls for emergency dispatch, reporting illegal activity or to prevent injury to people or property are allowed but drivers shall make every effort to safely park the vehicle if possible before making such calls.

d) Employees who use fixed mounted two-way radios are permitted to monitor the radio and to briefly respond. If a longer response is needed, the driver is expected to park the vehicle before making the call.

The mayor’s situation does not fit into any of those four exceptions. So unless he’s not considered a “city employee” and doesn’t have to abide by the city’s personnel manual, he’s in violation of this rule. I’m not aware of how or if these rules are enforced. I’ve reached out to the Bureau of Human Resources but have yet to hear back.

Asked to respond to our story yesterday, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office declined to comment.

UPDATE, 12/17: Asked to clarify whether or not the Mayor (a member of city council) is a “city employee”, City of Portland Office of Management and Finance Public Information Officer Heather Hafer said, “Yes, elected officials are considered City employees and they are held accountable to the Portland voters. Council members are expected to adhere to all administrative rules that are applicable to them and their unique roles.”

Hafer also shared the rule that governs discipline for city employees who break one of them. Human Resources Administrative Rule (HRAR) 5.01 states: “Any employee within the classified service is subject to disciplinary action for cause. Such discipline may include but is not limited to an oral reprimand, written reprimand, demotion, loss of pay, suspension or discharge.”

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Scott Sallay
Scott Sallay
11 months ago

I am not outraged.

Jerry "Nickles" McCroughan
Jerry "Nickles" McCroughan
11 months ago
Reply to  Scott Sallay

I heard that just last week Ted Wheeler didn’t wash out a yogurt cup before recycling it. There’s a sign in the break room at City Hall that specifically says you have to do so.

cmh89
cmh89
11 months ago

LOLLLOL isn’t dangerous driving hilarious!?!

X
X
11 months ago

I guess the Mayor’s Driver is one of the unfilled PPB positions.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
11 months ago

I am shocked, shocked I say, that an elected mayor of a major American West Coast city is caught on camera doing a routine city council meeting while driving his own car himself! Where was his city limousine and city-paid chauffeur and security detail?

We need to hold hearings immediately into this shocking security breach!

X
X
11 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Since there’s only one Mayor and they have many complex responsibilities (besides parenting) a case could be made that it’s worth paying a trusted person to chauffeur them around so drive time becomes available for administrative chores as needed. Or, perhaps lets a busy and almost certainly underpaid person devote a little time to their kid?

Seems like in Portland the Mayor having a driver is a worse look than conspicuous public distracted driving! No-vision zero, anyone?

Jerry "Nickles" McCroughan
Jerry "Nickles" McCroughan
11 months ago

Read the actual ordinance. It primarily applies to those who are driving fleet vehicles on city business and as far as I know the Mayor was driving his own car while on personal business:

The following apply to anyone who drives a City, Fleet, or other designated vehicle, as discussed below, on City business.

It’s all about reducing liability, and this whole section was probably crafted in accordance with the city’s insurer’s recommendations, not “Vision Zero” or the expectations of local bike bloggers / activists.

I’m really not sure what Bike Portland expects to happen from this. It seems like an incredibly minor infraction (if it’s even applicable here) and even if you managed to get Wheeler fined or whatever, how would that help cycling in Portland? Everyone who doesn’t like Wheeler is going to continue not liking him, and the everyone else is going to collectively roll their eyes.

Big picture, it just makes the whole bike community look petty and ridiculous. That’s my personal opinion, having been called “loony” and a “zealot” for riding my bike and advocating for change. Pick your battles, good grief. So many other dire problems in this town to choose from.

Bjorn
Bjorn
11 months ago

Not wanting people to be staring into the camera of their phone paying attention to a zoom meeting while driving a car is “loony”? Are you also pro-heavily intoxicated folks driving, because most americans used to feel the same way about drunk driving that you seem to feel about distracted driving now.

Scott
Scott
11 months ago
Reply to  Bjorn

Except that he wasn’t staring into the camera.

bjorn
bjorn
11 months ago
Reply to  Scott

Look at the photo at the top of this article: https://bikeportland.org/2021/12/15/mayor-wheeler-phoned-into-a-city-council-meeting-while-driving-today-342357

That is not a man looking at the road, he is looking down at his phone screen/camera.

qqq
qqq
11 months ago

“So many other dire problems in this town to choose from”.

That’s why I’d like the mayor to be paying attention during City Council meetings.

Charley
Charley
11 months ago

Preach.

Mark Remy
Mark Remy
11 months ago

Wow, I’m surprised to see folks here shrugging or laughing this off. This is dumb and reckless behavior—particularly where vulnerable road users are concerned.

one
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Remy

Comment of the week, right here from Mark Remy.

The mayor is a clown and a puppet, and he consistently shows his lack of reasoning. If he would have hit and killed someone during this selfish display, many of these commenters (New to Bike Portland) who are supporting the mayor would be singing a different tune.

Matt P
Matt P
11 months ago

It’s just like COVID with our so called leaders. Do as I say not as I do.

Paul
Paul
11 months ago

“No person shall drive on City business…” Was he driving on city business, or just driving otherwise while conducting city business on the phone? I know it’s splitting hairs but it may be legally relevant.

JJ
JJ
11 months ago

JM you are a better writer, journalist, and person than this.

JJ
JJ
11 months ago

JM,

I just felt like your writing and the stories you generally cover are so much more redeeming and interesting. This felt like something FOX news or CNN would cover to garner outrage. The Portland city leadership is terrible. This is reflected by the state of things in Portland(gun violence, loss of green spaces, mental health crisis, drug abuse crisis, homeless issues, cyclists and pedestrian deaths). So this story didn’t surprise me. But at the same time I thought about so many other stories that might be better. I realize that in a 140 character post in the comment section doesn’t explain things well and can be taken wrong. My apologies if offense was taken.

hamiramani
hamiramani
11 months ago

Thank you for keeping up the pressure. The mayor must be held accountable for this transgression.

Orig JF
Orig JF
11 months ago

Overall, I think the issue is a member (or in this case a leader or example setter) of our community has chosen an action that puts others at risk. And, this happened while conducting business in a manner that the community could observe!

The Mayor has probably been to/attended HR presentations about the dangers of distracted driving and been notified about the city policy. Therefore, this is similar to choosing to “floor it” trying make a yellow light, not wearing a seatbelt because it is only a short trip, driving home after a few drinks, and cutting through residential streets to save a minute. Done it before and nothing happened, so this time the same result is expected.

Although the mayor’s actions did not result in an adverse outcome this time, the risk of an accident happening has greatly increased. Especially if this becomes habit…

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
11 months ago

Ok, so the most that we, as voting citizens can do, is to vote the current mayor out of office for his lapse in judgement, correct?
He’s not going to be sanctioned, he’s not going to be put on admin leave with or without pay.
Yes, he made a bonehead move, but until we can vote him out of office, what are we to do with the info in the article? Remember it when I’m filling out my mailin ballot?
Full, disclosure, I’ll never vote for him again, regardless of him doing a stupid thing while driving or not..

Charley
Charley
11 months ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

Voting every four years might feel like the only direct option, but in reality, there are many, many ways for citizens to voice displeasure with their elected officials. Many of those options are more direct (highly public yard signs, writing letters to officials, starting a recall campaign, speaking to officials or their acquaintances in person, donating to campaigns, etc), and some are less direct (signing petitions, answering polls, etc).

We might not be able “citizen’s arrest” or “sanction” Wheeler ourselves, but you can be sure that politicians are very, very mindful of their media coverage. Also, their staffers are probably even aware of comment threads on local media coverage. I’m not kidding: the job of a politician in a democracy is listen to people, and that’s true whether they do a good job or not.

So, critical coverage of dumb behavior typically gets results. Maybe not always the results you want! But there were a number of high profile instances in the last several years (for instance, Biden’s refugee limitations were low, then raised after outcry; Trump scrapped his own family separation policy because it stank to high heaven and people said so).

A question for you:
At this point, do you think we’ll ever see Wheeler call in to a Council meeting while driving?

I strongly doubt we will. Wheeler touched the stove burner, and will probably not do it again, however briefly and seemingly consequence-free that experience may ultimately be.

cmh89
cmh89
11 months ago

Elected officials are employees but they don’t actually need follow administrative rules because they can’t be removed by the City. Back in the day, there was a Lane County Commissioner that use to bring a gun to work everyday and the county couldn’t do anything about it.

Granpa
Granpa
11 months ago

Let the mighty and righteous hammer of Portland’s law enforcement smite the offending scofflaw. Oh, wait, Portland doesn’t do enforcement.
Another scoundrel escapes justice /s

Bill Stites
11 months ago

It’s bad enough endangering fellow citizens, but to have a young child in the car?? Truly unacceptable from the top Portland official. What was he thinking? Couldn’t pull over?
The amount of drivers’ eyes-down I see out there is outrageous, and super dangerous. Just because a lot of people do it, doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

Some folks think this is a ‘petty’ violation, which really shows how numb we’ve become to obvious distractions. We still believe we can multitask these situations.
Even if you write off this incident as petty, it is indicative of underlying attitudes and care – or lack thereof.

Stay strong Jonathan, your calling out of the truth is appreciated.

Vans
Vans
11 months ago

So what about the other 5 city council members, employees, cohorts, whatever?

Sitting quiet through all that then and now is no better of a look either IMO.

Of course they are beholden to the Mayor so…

Nate
Nate
11 months ago

This is what time is being spent on here? How is this at all productive for the broader cause?

This looks a lot more like a political vendetta than a worthy news item on an important advocacy site. Disappointing.

Charley
Charley
11 months ago
Reply to  Nate

I think the time here is spent on reinforcing social stigma against a dangerous behavior: distracted driving.
I think this is productive because social stigma can influence behavior; when people reduce dangerous behaviors, the world becomes a safer place. Maybe you have a different set of ethical obligations, but I think making the world safer for people is a good idea.

Coverage of politicians is inherently newsworthy, because a politician’s job is to determine the laws under which we live, and their behaviors are often models for citizen behavior (or anti-models, in this case). Bike Portland also often covers individual local politicians when they ride bikes, or when they make transportation policy proposals.

JM may or may not have a vendetta against Wheeler, but these two articles, which mostly state obvious facts, wouldn’t be sufficient to prove it!

caleb
caleb
11 months ago
Reply to  Charley

Thank you for your effort, Charley.

joan
11 months ago

Would you all want to ride your bike next to someone driving while on a video call? Would you want that person driving next to your kid on a bike?

Driving while using your phone is incredibly dangerous, and traffic violence has been increasing at a dramatic and terrible rate — in large part because of terrible behavior by people driving cars.

The mayor isn’t exempt, ethically or legally, from city rules. In fact, the mayor has the highest obligation to follow the rules that he oversees for the entire City of Portland workforce. With his behavior, he’s telling City employees that either this rule isn’t important, or that he’s above them. It’s startling hypocrisy. The City didn’t make those rules because they’re convenient, but to protect the City and and its residents from dangerous behavior like this.

As folks on bikes, we see these behaviors, and we rage because we know it’s putting us in danger. It’s just as dangerous when the mayor does it, and I’m astounded anyone would make excuses for that. That’s the sort of double standard that makes us think we can use our phones we we’re driving because it’s the other people who are dangerous.

Denise Engle
Denise Engle
11 months ago

This is an article published for the public?! Seriously?
This is something that, if you absolutely HAVE to bring
it up at all, should have been handled by a quiet word in the
Mayor’s ear. Let him modify the impression himself that Portland has now been
given carte blanche to swing from the chandeliers if he will. I’m sure
anyone that saw this poor role modeling is just chafing at the bit to get on the road and post Tik Tok videos, host a group chat on messenger or oh my stars Zoom!
This is excruciatingly sophomoric.

qqq
qqq
11 months ago
Reply to  Denise Engle

I appreciate the article. This isn’t a private citizen talking privately on his phone in his car, it’s the mayor during a public meeting.

Even if there were no safety issue, I’m glad the mayor is being called out for being out driving during a City Council meeting, instead of giving the meeting the attention he’s being paid to give.

It’s not just that Wheeler is so unenlightened that he doesn’t see the problem with doing two things at once which both demand his full attention. It’s that he’s so oblivious to the fact that that behavior is poor that he felt comfortable doing it publicly on camera while on the job.

eawriste
eawriste
11 months ago
Reply to  Denise Engle

“Let him modify the impression himself that Portland has now been given carte blanche to swimg from the chandeliers if he will.”

Someone… please… please turn this into a Tik Tok video. Is Racter back generating poetry for us?

jered l bogli
jered l bogli
11 months ago

meh. Turn off the video. Nobody likes that angle.