I know many Portlanders are wondering why the City sometimes provides severance packages to Bureau Directors leaving City employment, such as in the recent departure of Mike Abbate from Portland Parks & Recreation.
Six Bureau Directors have received severance agreements since Mayor Wheeler took office; only this latest one was under my direction. Each individual severance package is a legal and personnel issue, and it is therefore inappropriate for me to discuss a specific agreement. In general, it is well known that Bureau Directors serve "at will", which common sense would interpret as not requiring any payout at the end of employment with the City. The determination of whether a Bureau Director who is leaving City employment should receive a severance is generally made by the Commissioner-in-Charge in partnership with the Bureau of Human Resources, with advice from the City Attorney’s office. In this recent case, the decision was also made in partnership with Mayor Wheeler. In exchange for the severance, employees waive the right to bring any legal proceedings challenging the circumstances of their departure from the City. This avoids legal liability and expenses for the City. While sometimes the amounts may seem at best generous and at worst outrageous, in practice the severance payment may save taxpayers' money. Spending taxpayers’ money wisely has always been a top priority for me, and I will continue to make decisions that follow that principle.
Leaving aside the practicalities of least-cost options, there are cases when the Mayor or another Commissioner in charge of a bureau determines that a severance is the right thing to do. Serving "at will" means Bureau Directors may leave for a wide variety of reasons, including simply a desire by the Commissioner-in-Charge to try new approaches under a different leadership style. When people have given years of service to the City, it is sometimes appropriate to provide resources allowing them and their families to adjust to their loss of employment. Providing a financial bridge to the outgoing Director when such a change is made may reflect their prior service and accomplishments. Severance payments are common in the private sector. Bureau Directors, though well paid, make far less than they could have had they spent their careers in the private sector, and they and their families sacrifice personal time and privacy to serve Portlanders in high profile, high responsibility positions.
While I recognize Portlanders may still disagree with recent decisions, I hope this gives you more information on the values and principles involved.