Housing and homelessness, addressing climate change and looking at all work through a lens of racial equity and inclusion were top priorities for the coming year identified by the Portland City Council on Monday night.

The priorities were set during the council’s annual goal-setting workshop, and come on top of a list of other work the city is already committed to undertaking, including implementing voter-approved charter revisions, setting the annual budget, hiring a new city manager, opening a new homeless services center and working with state lawmakers on legislative policies.

“I think this captures the big goals and discrete things and prioritizes the lens we’ll be looking through,” said Mayor Kate Snyder, adding that more detailed work on the broad goals set Monday will happen in council committees.

This year’s goal setting comes as the city is facing significant staffing challenges – something interim City Manager Danielle West reminded the council of Monday – and that she said could impact how much gets done.

The city currently has about 250 vacancies out of a staff of 1,400, including department heads in public works and housing and economic development, the city manager and police chief. The corporation counsel position also is being filled on an interim basis as West, who previously served in that role, has been acting as city manager for the last year.

“City leadership, our No. 1 goal is employee recruitment and retention,” West told the council. “It’s the most important thing right now. If we don’t have staff to do this work, we won’t be able to get anything done.”


The council is currently working on hiring a city manager after that process had been stalled by a charter commission proposal, Question 2, that sought to increase the powers of the city’s mayor and would have decreased the authority of the city manager.

The police chief position, which has been vacant since November 2021, also was put on hold under the premise the next city manager would hire the police chief. West said the city is moving forward with that search and has hired a consultant to assist.

She said the city has been working to hire a director of housing and economic development, but that too was stalled by the Question 2 proposal, which would have transferred the power to nominate department heads from the city manager to the mayor. “People (who applied for the job) would ask, ‘Who would my boss be?'” West said. “It was difficult to hire for that position.”

West asked the council to think about having committees meet once rather than twice per month in light of the staffing challenges.

“When staff is tasked with producing materials twice per month, in addition to everything else I’ve described, it’s extremely difficult,” she said. “We really want to help you achieve your goals and give you the best product we can, and I think the way we can do that is if we try to limit the meetings of the committees to one per month.”

Much of the council’s discussion Monday focused on housing, though other topics, including the climate change and racial equity goals that were ultimately given top priority, also surfaced.

The council discussed some of the strategies they have for increasing and incentivizing housing, such as utilizing the Jill C. Duson Housing Trust Fund, a city fund that can be used to finance affordable housing, and looking at what public land is available for housing to potentially be built on. But councilors also noted that most of the work on specific strategies will take place at the committee level in the months to come.

“A shared statement not only informs us as guardrails, but it educates our constituents and other potential partners and allies about how we value things and in what order we do that,” Councilor Mark Dion said just before the council summarized its priorities. “It’s a great shorthand, whether you’re trying to work with developers, or lobbying a committee in Augusta or securing the support of the business community.”

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