We need a great PBOT Director: Please spread the word

We need a great PBOT Director: Please spread the word

Sue Keil, then Tom Miller, then ?
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The City of Portland is hiring a new Director for their Bureau of Transportation. The fact that there’s been relatively no buzz about the job in the various networks and circles I monitor is a major concern. Why? Because this job is extremely important (understatement) and if the right people aren’t aware of the position, we won’t get the right person in the position.

Since I’ve been doing this blog (April 2005), I don’t think we’ve ever had the right person for this job. The past two PBOT Directors have had limitations — both in policy perspective and political baggage — that prevented them from success. With vast changes in how we get around in recent years, and with major economic, social and environmental imperatives that require us to perpetuate those changes, it’s never been more important to finally get this right.

Mayor Charlie Hales asked former director Tom Miller to resign because he was hand-picked for the job by former Mayor Sam Adams (Miller was his chief-of-staff for many years). Politically speaking, Hales’ move was completely understandable, but it’s worth noting that his choice for interim director, Toby Widmer, holds an outlook on transportation (maintenance first, other stuff if/when possible) that isn’t in line with what Portlanders want and it won’t allow us to reach the goals of our city and region.

There are people who hold power in Portland (both elected and special interests) who like that perspective. They would like to turn back the clock when it comes to our transportation future. They see a city that is too “anti-car” and that needs to sacrifice bicycling access in the name of being “business-friendly” while letting motorized freight vehicles run roughshod through our commercial districts and neighborhoods. Those same powerful people want a PBOT Director who is in line with their thinking (or who lacks strength and can become their puppet).

Under direction from Mayor Hales to conduct a national search to find the best-qualified candidate, PBOT posted the job listing online March 18th. However, I have yet to see it pop up anywhere on the lists and networks I spend time on. My assumption is that human resources staff at PBOT are simply posting it to the usual places. If that’s the case, we’re likely to get only the usual suspects to apply. That would not be good.

And this is about much more than finding a solid transportation thinker. The PBOT Director is often more engulfed in politics than policy. The job description itself says the person (who will be paid between $129,834 to $186,056) must have, “Strong political acumen, tact and diplomacy in dealing with complex, sensitive and confidential issues regarding multiple and conflicting agendas and positions.” And that’s putting it mildly.

There are only two weeks left before the application period closes on April 12th. If you care about the future of transportation in Portland, please share this link with all your contacts and networks.


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