As of today, Tom Miller is no longer Director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). He tendered his resignation back in January (at Mayor Charlie Hales’ request). Yesterday, Miller shared some parting thoughts to his staffers (whom he calls “Team Transport”) via email and we’ve just gotten a copy of it.
Before he left, Miller also polished off the bureau’s 2013-14 budget and PBOT’s first ever Business Plan. We’ll share more from both those documents, along with a lot of other budget-related coverage in the days and weeks to come. With a recent PBOT financial audit, a forthcoming paving audit, and budget negotiations set to heat up, things are sure to get very interesting.
Read Tom Miller’s email below:
Nearly two years ago to the day I jumped into a street sweeper with Tyrone Goodgame. We made a quick pass through the Boise-Eliot neighborhood just north of our maintenance yard on a clear winter’s day. Organic debris, mostly decaying leaves and twigs from nearby street trees, clung tightly to the curb. Tyrone handled the street sweeper with a deft touch as we shared observations over the engine’s roar.
Periodically Tyrone would choose to skip a section of street despite an obvious accumulation of debris. I found this curious. I was a new bureau director and intuitively eager to oversee the bureau’s best work. And my time in city hall had lodged in me its own accumulation of facts and analysis about the importance of street cleaning. Everybody likes a clean street, and it’s even legally required (as part of the city’s Clean Water Act permit).
Yet Tyrone’s confidence in decision-making seemed natural. I sensed an important lesson and piped up.
“Tyrone, what about that section we just passed?”
“Can’t get in there. Too many parked cars.”
“What about the other block? There were only two cars.”
“New street trees. We’d take down limbs. You know we can’t do that. The tree police would be after us.” We laughed.
Important lessons indeed.
Each day hundreds of us make thousands of decisions to implement the vision for Portland expressed by our elected leadership. Occasionally the drop of the mayor’s gavel resounds with a clarity of direction unobstructed by ambiguity. More often we find ourselves in Tyrone’s position, called upon to deploy our best judgment to make real the decisions of our leaders.
I take comfort as your departing director in knowing that I’ve offered my all to the tasks of anticipating and interpreting council direction. Our record together reflects a string of accomplishments that honor their intentions. And when given the opportunity to share the wisdom of experience like Tyrone’s, we’ve done so. Briefly,
- Peter Koonce [Division Manager, Signals, Street Lighting and ITS] and his team doggedly pursued a transition in streetlights to LED technology. The new lights will save taxpayers millions over time while producing a higher quality of light, yielding a safer travel experience in times of darkness.
- With a budget strained with expectation, group managers led development of “Streets of Citywide Significance,” a prioritization tool that directs the bureau’s precious discretionary resources to the most important assets.
- Under new Mayor Charlie Hales, paving is the priority. With the assistance of Jamie Waltz, Tom Beggs, Suzanne Kahn, and Steve Townsen, Brian Oberding can tell Mayor Hales exactly where the highest priority paving opportunities are, and how much they’ll cost. We’ve built his goal of paving or sealing 100 miles of streets with existing resources into the 13/14 budget we submit today.
- Alissa Mahar was a new arrival to the team when she insisted to me that we develop a Business Plan for 13/14. I enthusiastically agreed. Accompanying the budget we submit today is the 13/14 business plan that articulates for council, the auditor, the interested public, and all of us our proposed priority actions for 13/14.
- And most consequentially to my mind, we carried out council’s charge to establish a Financial Task Force. That group reviewed our revenue structure, identified its deficiencies, and developed a menu of opportunities for strengthening the bureau’s financial structure. When council chooses to update our bureau’s revenue model, the analysis and recommendations of our task force will serve as a cornerstone for council’s deliberation and ultimate action.
Things change, including bureau leadership. This series of quiet but essential reforms pave the way for my successors. It’s been an incredible privilege for me to initiate these actions. We all share Tyrone’s experience from time to time. The reforms help guide the decisions you’re called upon to make just a little bit easier. I wish you every success in the time to come.