As I type this, the City of Portland is going through the final stages of selecting a new director of the transportation bureau. This morning at City Hall, myself and over a dozen other citizen stakeholders got to “meet and greet” the final three candidates being considered for the job.
Our involvement in vetting the candidates has been just one part of the selection process. Yesterday each of them went through a grueling interview with eight different people while Portland City Commissioners and their staffers stood and observed in the background. This is all part of Mayor Hales’ promise to do a thorough, nationwide search for a new PBOT director. Back in January Hales asked former PBOT Director Tom Miller to resign and Hales made it clear during his mayoral campaign that he wasn’t comfortable with how Miller was hand-picked by his former boss, Sam Adams.
According to Hales, the City received 44 applications for the job from all over the country. Now there are just three people left.
This morning’s event began with coffee, pastries and socializing in the Pettygrove Room in City Hall. All three candidates were in the room and it was a nice, informal way to make their acquaintance. Then the candidates left and we were briefed by City staffers on how the process would work. Each stakeholder in the room (from a wide variety of transportation-related groups and neighborhood associations) was assigned a number from one to three.
We then split off into various rooms where the small, four-person groups sat down face-to-face with each candidate. It was an open conversation and we were allowed to ask anything we wanted. The idea was to learn more about the candidate and get a sense for their relevant experience, personality, and leadership style. I think I speak for everyone in my group in saying that the discussion was very substantive. We asked the candidates everything from how they’d raise new revenue to how they’d move Portland beyond its current state of stagnation.
After these small group discussions we then re-grouped and shared our impressions about each candidate while City staffers took notes to capture our feedback.
Overall I came away very impressed — both by the process itself and the candidates. The details of the candidates are confidential at this point; but I can share that all three of them are highly qualified and quite impressive. A final selection will be made soon and it will definitely be a tough choice. As one of the stakeholders said at the end of this morning’s meeting, “I don’t envy the mayor.”