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Hall Monitor

City Hall Shaken, Stirred

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HOLY SHIT. Remember a few weeks ago, when I made some educated guesses about which city bureaus Mayor Charlie Hales would assign his fellow commissioners ["Court Intrigue," News, May 15]?

I was feeling pretty smart up until Hales finally announced his picks late Monday, June 3. My logic was solid. My guesses weren't terrible. Except for one tiny point: I was very, very wrong on almost all counts.

Hales—who correctly cracked in his announcement that no one outside political and media circles actually cares about this stuff—made the most of his mayoral privilege by delivering a major shakeup that pretty firmly orients Portland City Hall in a new world order of Hales' design.

No commissioner, despite fervent lobbying, got to keep any of the major bureaus they had before Hales snatched them all in February to kick off budget season. Most, in fact, were handed bureaus they'd never even thought of running.

It's a striking (and heartening) power play for Hales, who also put commissioners on notice that he'll still be sticking his nose in at least some of their business.

Commissioner Nick Fish's portfolio perfectly exemplifies Hales' handiwork.

Fish made his bones running parks and housing, each of them well run and well liked. Now he's leading both of the city's troubled utility bureaus: water and environmental services. It's an unprecedented load for a single commissioner—especially at a time of frustration (and lawsuits) over high rates and unfunded federal mandates like capping our reservoirs and cleaning up the Willamette River.

There's great political upside for Fish, who's likely to seek reelection in 2014. There's also risk. And Hales will be looming quite closely when it comes to rates and the river.

"I was honored he had that much confidence in me," says Fish.

Hales made several other eye-catching choices. He's handed the bureau of transportation, and its cash problems, to Commissioner Steve Novick—despite making road paving a campaign issue. It's a big job for a rookie, except that Novick, when it comes to wonkiness, is no average rookie. And Hales is making it easier by putting his own political capital in a funding push that could start as soon as 2014.

The mayor also sent an unsubtle message to Commissioner Amanda Fritz. Fritz desperately wanted to keep the Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement. Hales kept it and talked pointedly about how the city's system of neighborhood organizing is broken.

Hales is clearly nodding to Fritz's intransigence in recent weeks—on Hales' budget, on sit-lie, and on the council's assent to cap Portland's reservoirs. Still, he did give her parks and the bureau of development services—which puts her in charge, incidentally, of the Right 2 Dream Too saga in Old Town.

But most interesting was Hales' treatment of Commissioner Dan Saltzman—delicately giving the council's dean a load both prestigious and light. Reforms in the fire bureau have already begun under Chief Erin Janssens. And housing, under director Traci Manning, is known for running itself.

Saltzman, in his fourth term, has been far cagier than Fish about his plans for 2014. Has Hales given him a glide path out of civic life? Or will he take the free time and decide to mount another campaign after all?

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