Former fire chief selected to guide systemic change in Portland's public safety bureaus
Past Fire Chief and current Emergency Management Director Mike Myers will oversee changes in financial planning, hiring and non-emergency call diversion
PORTLAND — Mike Myers, Portland’s former fire chief and the city’s current emergency management director, has been selected to serve as the city’s new community safety transition director.
In his third major job for the city, Myers will be responsible for guiding systemic change in all of Portland’s public safety bureaus, looking for ways to save money by integrating fiscal or other business operations between bureaus and helping to create a public safety strategic plan for the city.
Myers said he wants to be clear that his role is not intended to be “a super chief.”
The police and fire chiefs and the directors of emergency communications and emergency management will have autonomy over their bureaus and report to their respective city commissioners.
“I am really there to provide an administrative business sense at that strategic level and help guide them, support them” to move into the future, he said.
Myers, 53, is set to start the new job on April 1. His annual salary will be $197,246, identical to his current one as the director of emergency management, according to Heather Hafer, spokeswoman for the city Office of Management and Finance.
City Administrative Officer Thomas Rinehart sought $300,000 in last fall’s adjustment budget for the position, which includes Myers’ salary, plus benefits and staff support. The money comes from each of the city’s public safety bureaus: police, fire, emergency communications and emergency management.
Myers was one of the few people who applied for the job when it was open only to city employees. The city then decided to hold a national search and selected Myers.
Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Mingus Mapps, as the three who oversee Portland’s public safety bureaus, interviewed finalists for the new position this month. They said Myers established himself as a capable leader for the city’s transformation.
Rinehart has been an outspoken advocate for this new position, saying the public safety bureaus need managerial consistency.
The four bureaus together make up 40 percent of the city’s general fund. Portland has had six different police chiefs in six years and rotating police, fire and emergency communications commissioners based on mayoral and City Council elections.
Myers resigned as Portland’s fire chief in January 2019 to lead emergency management in Cannon Beach, saying at the time that he wanted to be closer to his wife, who had moved to Gearhart.
Four months later, Myers returned to the city after Hardesty called him and asked him to serve as the city’s emergency management director. He and his wife moved back to Portland.
Myers told The Oregonian/OregonLive that he will be encouraging bureau leaders to find ways to avoid duplication of services, whether in financial management, technology or public information.
He also said he’ll examine how the city can better redirect low-level, non-emergency or medical calls away from 911 emergency dispatch to a non-police response.
Myers echoed statements Hardesty made previously about the new position, saying he hoped to break down the public safety silos to reach a shared community safety vision.
He will work out of the city’s Office of Management and Finance and report to the chief administrative officer. He’s expected to help guide the work of the public safety bureau chiefs or directors and provide quarterly reports to the City Council.
Rinehart said the idea originated when Danielle Outlaw was still police chief. Outlaw served a short two-year tenure as Portland’s police chief before she left in late December 2019 to take the top police job in Philadelphia.
Under the city’s plan, the bureaus will strive to have integrated budgets, capital improvement plans and union bargaining strategies by fiscal 2022-23.
Alan Ferschweiler, president of the Portland Firefighters’ Association, objected to the new position, saying it would simply add “another layer of bureaucracy” and was concerned that the money for the job will take funding away from line firefighters, police or 911 dispatchers or facility or equipment repairs.
The heads of the city’s public safety bureaus met last month with the City Council in a work session to discuss ways to coordinate their work.
“We do not have all the answers to our community’s challenges. We have an exciting opportunity in front of us to work as a team, across the community safety bureaus to reimagine community safety,” said Ryan Gillespie, Fire Bureau division chief.
Bob Cozzie, director of the Bureau of Emergency Communications, said nearly half of the calls answered by the bureau’s call takers are non-emergency. In the last year, the bureau answered over 520,000 911 calls that were truly emergencies and more than 487,000 administrative or non-emergency calls.
“Almost half of our business is non-emergency right now,” Cozzie said, “and I’d like to see us shift away from that.”
The city is working to divert non-emergency calls to a 311 number for a non-police response.
Bureau leaders also have discussed combining efforts on how to recruit and hire potential applicants, particularly people of color, to fill vacancies.
Hardesty said what has stood out to her is “how much the health of our community is tied to these bureaus.” She said she hopes the future talks focus on who the right responders should be to different calls for services and how the city can divert more money to community-based services.
While there are many community-based groups now considering ideas on how to revise the future of policing, Hardesty sounded a note of caution that “until we have all those pieces put together, it will be really hard to have a vision for what community safety looks like for each bureau.”
Myers said he’ll take input from bureau chiefs and residents and also look at how the city’s services fit with county public safety programs, including the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices.
“My job is to listen to community members,” he said. He doesn’t plan to reinvent the community programs already in place, he said.
Wheeler said he hopes that the new director “can help coordinate the values, the strategies, and then the tactics and investments required to create a system” that’s more cost-effective and efficient.
(c)2021 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)