Commissioner Mapps names Millicent Williams as new PBOT Director

Millicent Williams is the new Director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

Williams is a former PBOT staffer who rose to the position of Deputy Director before leaving the city in May 2021. Before becoming deputy director, Williams was capital program division manager and most recently worked as regional director for Otak, a Portland-based engineering and planning firm. Williams also served as facilitator of the Equity Roundtable for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program.

Williams fills the role left vacant since January when former director Chris Warner left to take a job with Oregon Governor Tina Kotek’s office.

Williams is the first Black woman to lead PBOT, and she arrives at a critical juncture as the agency is reeling with unprecedented budget challenges.

“I am energized by the opportunity to work with the dedicated staff at the Portland Bureau of Transportation in service to and in partnership with communities across the city,” Williams said in a statement. “At a time that when the bureau and city are facing tremendous challenges, I look forward to advancing PBOT’s work with compassion, viewing the work through an equity lens, considering the work in relation to our climate goals, and performing the work with excellence. Together, we will take a pragmatic, ‘Whole Community’ approach to problem-solving and embrace the promise of our future with optimism.”

PBOT Commissioner and mayoral candidate Mingus Mapps made the hire. He referred to Williams as someone who could make PBOT a “more pragmatic partner in building the future of Portland.” Mapps will put a tremendous amount of faith in Williams as his run for mayor puts more scrutiny on his leadership of PBOT and he looks to fulfill a promise to help the agency find its way out of a dark financial situation.

During her time at PBOT, Williams showed that she would not shy away from challenging conversations. In 2019, she led a tense PBOT meeting in a north Portland neighborhood that was debating whether or not to install a traffic diverter. It was a very notable meeting because PBOT was very up front that local residents would be allowed to decide if it should be built or not.

“We recognize that if we are going to be a bureau and city that demonstrates care, concern, and compassion for all, we have got to acknowledge our contributions to that pain and perform our work differently,” Williams shared with attendees, many of whom were Black. “Tonight’s conversation is for you. Tonight’s conversation is about you…This is your community and your project, let’s work together to get meaningful outcomes.”

Then in June 2020, just a month after the killing of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests over racism, Williams spoke out at a City Council meeting as part of a panel of guests to mark the Juneteenth holiday.

“I work in spaces where I know that my presence voice, access and expertise is unexpected, thought to be undeserved and often considered to be a threat,” she said. “I’ve worked across the full spectrum of public service and now I work in transportation, a discipline that has for many represented a sense of freedom, but for Black people has been a source of pain.”

Here’s more from her speech:

“I think about how a Black person was supposed to avert their eyes and step aside when they saw a white person on the sidewalk because silence meant safety. I think about redlining, road conditions, dissection and displacement in cities across America and a resultant forced silence which for some, if you weren’t subject to those things, meant safety.

Today I think about those examples and so many other things as we engage in solutions for communities across the city in managing the right-of-way and building infrastructure. As transportation professionals, it’s time for us to think differently about the industry, what it represents, and how we can influence the future. 

At this juncture, either we will all be comfortable, or we’ll all be uncomfortable.”

In a statement from Commissioner Mapps’ office today, Williams said, “I look forward to advancing PBOT’s work with compassion, viewing the work through an equity lens, considering the work in relation to our climate goals, and performing the work with excellence. Together, we will take a pragmatic, ‘Whole Community’ approach to problem-solving and embrace the promise of our future with optimism.”

Williams’ first day on the job will be July 24th.


(Note: If you’ve worked with Williams and would like to share a comment about her for this story, please get in touch.)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Timur Ender
Timur Ender
7 months ago

Millicent was my supervisor at PBOT for a number of years. I can confidently say she is an authentic, caring, and kind person. She is a great leader, people-developer, and understands the details and the big picture. She is more than qualified to lead PBOT during this time and I’m excited to see her in action!

Ignacio
Ignacio
5 months ago
Reply to  Timur Ender

Seems like you are a terrible judge of character. Her first major decision is to remove on of the few protected bike lanes in the city? Great leader she has turned out to be!

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor

I’ll step first up to bat for Millicent Williams. I like her a lot.

I met her when I was in the PBOT/PSU transportation class, five or six years ago, I think. A big part of that class was managers from PBOT making shortish presentations about what their department does. The class had a big networking component.

Three people spoke that evening, Williams, Mychal Tetteh (who are both Black) and a woman from Metro, who spoke first. My memories are years-old, but as I remember it, the woman from Metro was proudly talking about how some upcoming funding opportunities would be be seen through an equity lens, or something.

I thought for about 10 seconds, raised my hand, and explained that, as the NA transportation chair of the rich neighborhood (Portland Heights) when I heard about equity scoring for projects, it just meant another round of project money that we wouldn’t qualify for. And that we weren’t qualifying for anything. It was a shut-out for a neighborhood that at the time didn’t even have a sharrow—the active transportation revolution had passed us by and wasn’t looking back.

The woman from Metro looked like a deer caught in the headlights, and totally punted. She said something like, “I think our next two speakers can do a better job of addressing that.” I imagined the thought bubbles above the heads of Tetteh and Williams with one word, “thanks.”

Tetteh, who is a totally charming man, joked with me about my grocery store closing, so by process of elimination it was left to Williams to field my concerns.

Williams stood up when it was her turn, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I want to talk to you after class.” And then she went on to make her excellent presentation. She is a really, really good public speaker.

And we talked after class. I don’t remember exactly what she said to me, but it was something like, “It’s a problem when a group of people feels shut out of the process.” And our conversation continued over email. At the time the neighborhood was having a lot of problems and complaints with Broadway Drive. Williams told me she knew about the issues, and that she would be watching what happened.

Over the next couple of years, Broadway occupied way too much of my time, but I always felt like Millicent was watching. It was the first time I felt listened to and seen by anyone at the city.

eawriste
eawriste
7 months ago

This is really helpful Lisa. Thanks for sharing!

ecotoper
ecotoper
7 months ago

maybe Millicent “Williams” will be an asset, but she got into PBOT through blatant fraud and deception … her real last name is WEST …she was tried and convicted of financial fraud in Wash DC @ 10 years ago … she left that city in disgrace, laid low in Texas for a while, changed her name … then slinked into Pdx … go ahead – look it up … she cannot even legally vote …

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  ecotoper

I looked it up, she’s even more of a powerhouse go-getter than I realized. Portland is lucky to have her.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
7 months ago

Wait. What? She’s a convicted felon.

Max S
Max S
7 months ago
Reply to  ecotoper

Well, I agree this raises an eyebrow or two, but claiming she was originally hired “through blatant fraud and deception” doesn’t seem correct to me. Her criminal record was known to PBOT at the time and considered by the hiring officials. The article also notes she was not accused of doing it for personal gain. It’s not great, but if her conduct in the past six years was fine and she’s the most qualified candidate, I’m not opposed to a second chance.

she cannot even legally vote

Bit of a tangent but this is not true: felons can vote in Oregon once they are out of prison.

Mick O
Mick O
5 months ago

Says: “It’s a problem when a group of people feels shut out of the process.”

Then proceeds to unilaterally order the dismantling of Broadway Blvd bike facility. So to parse her statement closely, we see that the problem is NOT when people are shut out of the process. She is clearly fine with shutting people out of the process. The “problem” is when the people who were shut out actually find out about it… as she is now learning.

Fred
Fred
7 months ago

Can she keep the bike lanes swept? That will be my barometer of success.

dw
dw
7 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Same here! Hopefully she prioritizes the working conditions of the maintenance workers.

FDUP
FDUP
7 months ago

She’s got the ideal revolving door/BIPOC CV for the job, who could possibly argue with that?

robert wallis
robert wallis
7 months ago

It is great to see this very exceptional person deciding to devote her near future to public service. I do not know her, but from what I have heard about her from people who know her and who I trust, I believe that PBOT is very fortunate to have her. PBOT needs her talents a lot more than does her previous employer OTAK, one of the many mega consultants helping to sell the IBR mega bridge project. Mapps must be an ace! This news made a very good day better. It gives me hope that Portland is on the right track to a better future. Go Millicent!

maxD
maxD
7 months ago
Reply to  robert wallis

Robert, it is very common for consultants to move into the public positions where they can get inside knowledge and network with other consulting firms. This type of cronyism is the norm, and it will be interesting to see if her support for IBR is different now that she represents the City instead of Otak.

Fuzzy Blue Line
Fuzzy Blue Line
7 months ago

Two things can be true at the same time:
1. The public deserves to know the criminal background of public servants appointed to lead public agencies like PBOT especially when such criminal activity occurred while they were serving in an official capacity for a different public agency.
2. People deserve second chances to prove they’ve changed their ways provided checks and balances are in place at PBOT. I would hope those checks and balances are the City Council and/or Mingus Mapps providing oversight of PBOT programs and expenditures.

Fred
Fred
7 months ago

I agree that no person should be defined forever by some bad decision or decisions that person once made. I for one want to see what Millicent can accomplish to boost cycling in Portland, starting with basic maintenance of the existing infrastructure. I’m fine with not building more for the time being – just maintain what we have now. I would love it, for example, if I didn’t have to report gravel in every gosh-darned bike lane in order for it to be removed – and sometimes not even then. I would like for PBOT to pay attention to the bike lanes and sweep them without me having to report them. That would be SO refreshing.

Pierre P
Pierre P
7 months ago

Tom Miller would have been a much better pick. He actually has experience in the job, loves cycling….and even does NOT have a felony conviction. LOL. But this is Portland 2023 and white males are “evil” in PDX, right?

PBOT Director Tom Miller lays out perspectives on politics, bicycling – BikePortland

Tom Miller hired as transition team leader for Rene Gonzalez – BikePortland

cMckone
cMckone
7 months ago
Reply to  Pierre P

Do you know if he applied for the position?