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Thursday, November 7, 2013

UPDATED: Portland's Soon to Have a New City Attorney

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, Nov 7, 2013 at 5:36 PM

I guess I'm the first to point it out publicly? The city's human resources website has begun soliciting applications for a new city attorney—which means the person currently in the position, Jim Van Dyke, will be stepping down sometime in the next couple of months.

That major change atop the city's leadership has not been the subject of a formal announcement, either from Van Dyke's office or from Mayor Charlie Hales' office, which oversees the city's legal shop. Messages to Van Dyke and Hales' office tonight have yet to be returned. The circumstances of his departure are unclear, although the request for applications has already begun to circulate through sources in city hall.

Van Dyke has been atop the city attorney's office for nearly two years—initially on an interim basis, after his predecessor, Linda Meng, stepped down in early 2012. The idea was Van Dyke would serve until a new council, eventually led by Mayor Charlie Hales, took over in early 2013 and brought in, if it it wanted, its own top lawyer. That never happened. Van Dyke quietly assumed the job outright at some point this year. He started with the city in 1994, serving as a senior deputy city attorney before rising to chief deputy city attorney.

UPDATE 9:35 AM FRIDAY: Hales' office this morning sent a statement saying Van Dyke is retiring, effective December 1, and that another interim attorney will be appointed while a national search plays out. Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, also says, Van Dyke has still technically been serving as an interim city attorney all this time, ever since February 1, 2012.

Haynes supplied the following statement from the mayor, with his thoughts about recruitment and thanking Van Dyke for his work:

“We will conduct a national search, just as we did when we sought new leaders for the Transportation Bureau and the Fire and Police Disability and Retirement program. The best candidate could come from Portland or from anywhere else in the nation. But for a great city like Portland, a national search just makes sense.

“I want to thank Jim Van Dyke who has served as acting city attorney since before the start of my term in office. Jim has offered sage counsel, experience and even a sense of humor. His professionalism has been greatly appreciated.”

His office in the past few months. has provided advice on several controversial subjects in recent months—working most famously with the federal Department of Justice and Portland Police Association and others on a recent agreement on federal police reforms. His office also helped guide conversations on Right 2 Dream Too and paid sick leave.

The pitch for the job spends a lot of time talking up Portland's weather (trying to spin people out of fretting over the rain), walkability, and restaurants, suggesting this will be a national search. Although it's also possible another senior deputy attorney might be approached or apply. The nuts and bolts of the job as follows:

The City Attorney is appointed by and serves at the will of the City Council. The incumbent manages a law office equivalent to a medium size law firm. The City Attorney manages, directs and integrates a wide range of complex, sensitive legal services, often involving issues of significant visibility and substantial consequence for the City. The City Attorney is responsible both for providing legal advice and advocacy on highly complex and sensitive issues in diverse areas of law to the Mayor, City Council, bureau managers, other City employees, boards and commissions and for ensuring that City officials and employees comply with the legal and ethical standards set forth in statue and code. The incumbent directs litigation in which the City is involved as plaintiff, defendant or other interested party and approves legally binding documents related to City interactions with private businesses, individuals and with other governments.

Responsibilities of the City Attorney are broad in scope, require a high degree of seasoned legal and administrative discretion and are evaluated in terms of overall effectiveness. The City’s governmental structure and the role of the City Attorney require sophisticated interpersonal skills and seasoned political and legal acumen to ensure sensitivity to complex political realities while remaining strictly politically neutral. Because of the high visibility of many cases, the City Attorney must be skillful in dealing with the media while protecting attorney-client privilege.

Candidate must:

• Be a member in good standing of the Oregon State Bar and be admitted to practice (or eligible for admission to practice) before Oregon state and federal courts.

• Have at least 10 years of progressively responsible legal practice, with a thorough knowledge of Oregon constitutional law and Oregon municipal law. Experience with civil litigation, civil rights, public contracting, environmental law, land use law, employment and labor law and/or utilities law a plus.

• Have demonstrated ability to handle a variety of highly complex legal matters.

• Have proven ability managing budgets and personnel, including professional and administrative employees.

The salary is listed at $134,118 to $192,192. Van Dyke's pay was in the middle last year: $167,415.

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