Monday, October 17, 2011

Political appointees in line for guaranteed severance pay?

Portland bureau directors start out as political appointees and typically leave with a change in bureau political leadership. The city council is to vote on severance pay for directors fired without cause before they reach their third year. [The Oregonian].

Directors are at-will employees, therefore subject to being fired without cause at any time. It is Commissioner Fish that is promoting item 1106 on the agenda. It is unclear the purpose of the change in termination policy.

The rationale supporting this proposal:
"Employment agreements with top-level government officials are becoming more commonplace and are a critical tool in recruiting for highly skilled bureau directors." 
"[N]ot only increases accountability but makes the City of Portland an attractive employer for top notch talent at the highest levels in the organization."
But neither hold water when the directors are political appointments.

A good example is Tom Miller who was appointed by Mayor Adams. Miller who was the mayor's chief of staff had little qualifications for transportation bureau director. A different story - maybe - if bureau directors are hired as part of a national employment search.

It is unclear the real purpose of this ordinance. Commissioner Fish the author of the ordinance has made two appointments that I am aware of since July 2011 - Housing Director (a former Central City Concern employee) and Parks and Recreation Director (internal promotion.) But he is not up for re-election and can remain in office until 12/31/14.

Considering the coziness between the city and Central City Concern, it might as well be another bureau or department in the city, I wonder whether this is to protect the director coming from Central City Concern.

However, in the case of an internal selection, that was not part of a national search, an internal employee loses his or her civil service protection. But I am unsure that is a just cause for this ordinance.

And, since the proposed ordinance speaks only to those hired after July 1, 2011 - most of the present bureau directors will not get a chance at the guarantee severance. So what is the value of this proposal?

It might well have merit if this proposal is part of an entire package to assure the hiring of highly skilled directors, e.g., not political appointments but resulting from a mandatory national selection process based upon stated requisite experience and education.