Earlier this year, Portland officials got involved in a spirited debate over whether the mayor’s position as outlined in the city charter was “strong” enough to provide the leadership the city really needed.

Not enough attention was paid, however, to the real power vacuum at City Hall, which was in the city manager’s office. It was filled by interim managers for nine months after the 2014 resignation of Mark Rees, who had never mastered the job in his three years in Portland..

The way the charter separates the duties, the mayor is a policy leader while the manager is the chief executive.

It’s the manager who hires and fires employees, and it’s the manager who lets them know when they are not living up to expectations. The popularly elected mayor, by virtue of being full-time and serving a four-year term, was expected to provide continuity and focus that the part-time City Council with a revolving “mayor” could not. But the new charter never negated the need for a hands-on manager to run the city.

Lately, we’ve gotten a glimpse of the system working the way it’s supposed to.

The city is engaged in a mayoral election campaign, where issues such as housing, development, education and infrastructure are up for debate, and three candidates are each making the case for why they would be the best to lead. But everything doesn’t stop while they debate.

On Tuesday, we learned that the stalled “midtown” project in Bayside would break ground by the end of the year, thanks to successful negotiations between the developer and City Manager Jon Jennings. The project, which was on the verge of collapse when Jennings started in his post in July, is back on track and will produce 440 units of housing on an undeveloped brown field.

Adding that many residents to the neighborhood will bring it new life and create opportunities for other developments. Adding that many housing units to the city could create enough slack in the rental market to ease the upward pressure on rents.

The five-year political process that led to this moment has been well documented, and we don’t need to re-argue our position here. What’s important to note is that when the arguing is over, it’s somebody’s job to make sure the policy is carried out.

Jennings is still relatively new on the job, and he has a lot of work ahead of him, including hiring both a fire chief and a public services director.

But his work on the midtown negotiations is an important achievement and a lesson in how the system is supposed to work.

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