Ore. FD pays $189K, six-month healthcare package for division chief’s resignation
A severance agreement bars Portland Division Chief Tim Matthews from filing a lawsuit he had considered earlier
By Shane Dixon Kavanaugh
PORTLAND, Ore. — A high-ranking Portland Fire & Rescue official who claimed then-Chief Sara Boone sabotaged his career over a personal beef was paid more than $189,000 to resign, records obtained Monday by The Oregonian/OregonLive show.
Division Chief Tim Matthews will also not be able to pursue a potential lawsuit he considered filing against the city under terms of the severance agreement finalized June 29, according to a copy of the document received through a public records request.
Boone, Bureau of Human Resources Director Cathy Bless and city attorney Heidi Brown signed off on the $189,400 payment to Matthews along with six months of city-paid health care for him and his dependents.
“We didn’t see Chief Matthews being a part of Portland fire’s future, and it was most cost-effective to separate him in this fashion,” said Commission Rene Gonzalez, who assumed control of the Fire Bureau earlier this year.
A former law enforcement officer in Oregon and Washington, Matthews joined Portland Fire & Rescue in 2005 and ascended the ranks to become a division chief in 2021. Many within the bureau long speculated that he’d ultimately succeed Boone as fire chief, multiple people who spoke with The Oregonian/OregonLive said.
As head of the bureau’s Community Health Division, he oversaw the high-profile Portland Street Response program, which sends a non-police intervention team to people in crisis on the street, until he went on leave in December, according to records and city officials.
Matthews alleged in a March tort claim notice he filed with the city that he was sidelined after he sought to discipline a deputy fire chief, Lisa Reslock, who worked in his division and was a “close friend” of Boone’s.
Reslock had faced allegations of “bullying, discrimination and unwanted physical contact against employees based on their sexual orientation” by other fire bureau staff, Matthews claimed. In one instance, she disparaged a Portland Street Response worker over the use of personal pronouns, he alleged.
Reslock retired in November amid a human resources investigation into the allegations against her, according to Matthews’ tort claim filing. Afterward, Matthews alleged, Boone stripped him of most of his responsibilities, prompting him to file a retaliation complaint.
“The city chose to ignore that and protect the chief instead,” Matthews said in an interview Monday. “I was betrayed for doing the right thing. They destroyed my career.”
Portland Fire & Rescue has since claimed that a third-party human resources investigation cleared Boone of any wrongdoing. Boone retired last month after nearly three decades working for the bureau, including four years as chief.
The fallout from the departures of Reslock and Matthews created a months-long leadership vacuum within the Community Health Division just as Portland Street Response was gearing up for a promised around-the-clock expansion.
The program continues to face an uncertain future amid staff turnover, deepening financial challenges and political divisions within the fire bureau.
“It was a great program that was on the right track and making a lot of progress,” Matthews said. “This derailed it all.”
Oregonian/OregonLive staff writer Maxine Bernstein contributed to this report.