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):
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.”