Meet your Portland City Commissioner: Randy Leonard

In this, the fourth installment of our ongoing series, learn about the values that drive the City Commissioners to seek their positions – and about the City bureaus they oversee – in their own words …

Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard says he measures successes in bureaus based on the good results seen.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Occupying Position #4 on the Portland City Council is the Commissioner of Public Safety, Randy Leonard. The title is honorary; the City’s Mayor assigns the bureaus and organizations over which each commissioner presides.

Read on, and see what we learned in this interview, conducted at Portland City Hall – about how Leonard governs, the bureaus he oversees, and the accomplishments of which he is most proud – in his own words …

Leonard’s philosophy of governance
“I have a pretty easy-to-understand philosophy,” Commissioner Leonard began. “It’s born of my experience of being a Portland firefighter. I believe strongly in delivering services. I measure success not so much by process as by results. Good process is important to me, but so are good results. I never forget what the goal is: Delivering good services to people, to neighbors – so that their lives are made better through the City government.”

City agencies overseen by Commissioner Leonard
Bureaus, offices, or agencies in City government are supervised by Portland City Commissioners. Here are the agencies for which Commissioner Leonard is responsible:

The Portland Water Bureau – “We have a unique water delivery system. It doesn’t require any added energy to deliver water to most of the taps in Portland – because the source, in the foothills of Mt. Hood, is higher in elevation than most of the City of Portland, excluding the West Hills. It’s pressurized by gravity! In fact, the pressure is so powerful, we have a series of pressure-reducing valves throughout the system. We have a naturally-sustainable system that requires virtually no energy to get water to you.

“And, it’s the best [municipal] water in the world, actually. It comes from the foothills of one of the most lush forest areas in the world. There may be places in the world that get water from pristine sources, like we do – but there is no better! It requires virtually no treatment.

“The Portland Water Bureau also maintains a well field. It’s not as good as Bull Run water, but it’s better than ‘no water’ during drought conditions. We minimize using it as much as possible – as late in the summer as we can. I can tell the difference in taste; but it meets all drinking water standards.”

The Bureau of Development Services – “Their mission is to ensure the safety of the community through adequate building standards. It’s the permitting agency for the city; permitting for any new construction, remodeling – residential or commercial.

“Most people may not understand the day-to-day benefit of having building standards and fire codes that help enforce safe building standards. A lot of the requirements are underappreciated – until there is some type of disaster, whether it is natural or man-made.

“With the huge reduction in revenue they’ve had from issuing fewer permits, as result of the recession, they’ve had to lay off 168 people so far [through June]. This compromises their ability to issue permits as quickly as possible; but they are doing it, and doing a good job.”

Portland Fire & Rescue – “I worked there for 24 years before I moved on to the legislature. Their mission is to respond to whatever might threaten life or property.

“If it’s a house on fire, they’ll do whatever is necessary to get the occupants out and extinguish the fire. But they also respond to flooded basements, by pumping them out and helping to find the leak. For any kind of medical emergency, it’s their job to respond quickly, and do whatever it is they need to do to sustain life and stabilize your condition until you can get you to the hospital. They are the front-line saviors, and the rescuers of last resort.

“If there is a catastrophic event, PF&R’s Urban Search & Rescue teams are trained to shore up falling structures, and enter very confined, dangerous spaces to save lives.”

Commissioner Leonard says the bureaus he oversees run relatively smoothly.

About being in office
Although his portfolio contains just three City agencies, it’s a lot to manage, Leonard said.

“The Fire Bureau is well-running, and fairly easy to manage. And, the Bureau of Development Services is now running well; they’re in the process of buying a $5.2 million computerized system to automate all of our building permits across the City.

“The Water Bureau is managed well, but there many issues related to it – including building two new reservoirs, and covering our open reservoirs to meet federal standards. I get to a lot of public meetings on both issues.

“Although it’s only come into the news lately, the Water Bureau has always had a security force. Given the nature of what they protect – our drinking water – I believe that force should be more than unarmed security guards; they’re running across well-armed hunters who are violating federal, state, and local law by being in the watershed.”

Accomplishments during his current term
“As simple as it may sound, [the accomplishment I’m most proud of is] creating Hydro-Parks. It makes a lot of difference in a lot of neighborhoods. It’s a very simple thing to do: Take fenced-off land, and turn it into park space with natural trails and community gardens. I’m most proud of that. A part of that was taking an unused Water Bureau office in Hazelwood, and converting it into a building now used by the East Portland Neighborhood Office coalition.

“I’m also proud to have spearheaded moving Portland’s archives out from Columbia Boulevard to Portland State University. We have a new archive center there, with all of Portland’s historical documents now accessible to the public.

“And, we’re also revamping Portland’s permitting system; I’m proud of how that’s going. Before, it was a place people ‘loved to hate’. Now, the people working there are very helpful; and that took a lot of work!”

The best way to contact him, Leonard says is via e-mail; he responds to them, usually the same day.

About being contacted by citizens
“I appreciate citizens contacting me. I answer my own e-mails. I respond when people are civil, I often don’t respond when people are uncivil. It doesn’t mean that you have to be nice and happy. It does mean that name-calling and obscenities aren’t a way of getting response; that makes the ‘delete’ button easy to press.

“You can call the office, but the easiest way is to e-mail me.  Eventually, sometime within the course of the day, I respond all the e-mails, though I get hundreds a day. Even if I’m on vacation, I try to take a few minutes to sit quietly and clear off the e-mails.

“More than just responding to people, I try to help them solve their problem. It’s not so much that I have the ‘right’ answer; often I don’t. But I’ll refer people to the right person – not just the correct agency – that can help solve their problem, or answer their question.”

Contact information

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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