Portland, Ore. — One year after voters approved dramatic changes to Portland’s elections and form of government, the Portland City Council decided how to organize city government to help bring that vision to life.
At a meeting Wednesday, council passed a resolution approving a revised organizational chart to unify bureaus, programs and services under the leadership of a city administrator. Organized by service areas, the new model establishes key leadership positions and realigns core services to operate efficiently and effectively.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said the council must meet a January 2025 deadline to launch the new form of government, as directed by their employers: the people of Portland.
“This is a very short timeline for the level of institutional change that is required by our employers, and so we are doing our level-best,” Wheeler said at the meeting. “This isn’t the end of the discussion. There will be opportunities at future dates to be able to reframe, change or evolve the structure.”
Approved by Portland voters in November 2022, the new form of government formally launches Jan. 1, 2025. Between now and then, Chief Administrative Officer Michael Jordan will lead implementation of the new organizational chart in consultation with the city council.
In February 2023, council assigned Jordan to recommend a new structure for the city. Under his direction, the city’s transition team worked with city leaders, council offices and employees to complete a series of programmatic assessments and researched best practices from other cities. Jordan also considered employee survey feedback and community comments.
Over the last month, more than 700 employee and community questions and comments were submitted, which informed the final draft that Jordan shared with council for their consideration this week.
“We appreciate the careful consideration and time spent by the mayor and city council to reach this important milestone,” Jordan said. “Due to the timing of the city’s budget planning cycle, this decision is critical to the success of Portland’s government transition.”
Wednesday’s vote provides lead time to implement complex organizational changes, support employees and inform the budget process during the transition to a new form of government.
Organizational structure highlights
The city’s new organizational structure includes several key elements.
A city administrator’s office and executive leadership team, including six deputy city administrators, an equity officer, a sustainability officer and an assistant city administrator. Together, these people will be responsible for leading and coordinating operations across the City to improve delivery of internal and external services, developing and implementing a citywide vision and priorities and continuing to grow a shared culture across the organization. The city administrator’s office will also include the Office of Equity and Human Rights, Communications, Community and Civic Life, Council Operations, the Office of Government Relations and Portland Solutions, to provide greater citywide coordination of policies and programming.
Six service areas, each led by a deputy city administrator:
Budget and Finance
Community and Economic Development
Reporting to the assistant city administrator, the Portland Solutions workgroup will develop and deliver integrated solutions to pressing challenges such as houselessness.
The proposal also outlines a staffing plan for the new council and mayoral offices, including two dedicated staff positions for each council member and five for the mayor.
Cost Estimates and Budget
Total projected costs for political offices, the city administrator’s office and citywide leadership team are $23.9 million per year – about $13 million more than the existing $10.9 million budget for the mayor’s office and city council.
Budget officials outlined several potential strategies to fill the gap:
Dedicate existing resources, such as the salary for the current chief administrative officer position, to support new executive leadership costs.
Identify citywide efficiencies to fund central staff.
Require bureaus to absorb new costs by adding them at the beginning of the budget process.
Require bureaus to submit “decision packages” for the proposed changes – proposals that compete with other city needs during the regular budget process and require identifying resources to fund them.
By approving the city organization resolution, the city council did not commit specific resources to fund each aspect of the organizational chart. Instead, they signaled their intent to identify resources through the budget process for the financial year that begins July 1 — which is already getting underway.
During the meeting, council members said they might adjust the organizational chart during the budget process if they are not comfortable with options to pay the projected costs.
“Our city council affirmed their commitment to Portland’s value of fiscal responsibility,” said Tim Grewe, the city’s budget director. “Now, we’re prepared to develop a funding package for their consideration during the Fiscal Year 2024-2025 budget process.”
Adapting the Recommendation
Wednesday’s vote followed an in-depth work session Tuesday, when city council discussed Jordan’s recommendation and proposed a variety of changes. The organizational chart they ultimately adopted reflected approximately a dozen amendments, some of them approved by split votes:
Renaming the Parks and Recreation service area Vibrant Communities, moving the city arts program to that service area and creating a citywide natural area and tree management unit within this service area
Adding a chief sustainability officer to the city administrator’s office
Combining Permitting and Development Services into a single entity in the Community and Economic Development service area
Establishing council authority through the end of 2024, by outlining service areas for each of them to oversee and directing Jordan to consult them on a variety of implementation elements
The new organizational chart takes effect July 1, with the possibility of hiring an interim city administrator next year. That person would work closely with current city council members, who will oversee the new service areas until Portland’s new form of government officially launches in January 2025.
- Exhibit A: approved organizational chart
- Exhibit B: executive office structure
- Exhibit C: elected official staffing
- Exhibit D: liaison roles