In response to criticism of the Portland Development Commission voiced by African Americans and other minorities recently, the commission will make "significant" changes, said Bruce Warner, the commission's executive director.
Warner will create a new executive-level position to address community relations and business equity; that person — who is expected to be hired within the next three months — will report directly to Warner.
The new executive will work with the commission's programs that focus on minority-and women-owned businesses, emerging small businesses and workforce diversity, including contracting compliance.
In addition, community relations and public involvement functions also will be supervised by the new executive.
Warner announced the changes following a commission meeting two weeks ago where more than 90 people, most of them African Americans, demanded that the board be more responsive to African Americans. They angrily told the commission that it has ignored North and Northeast Portland while paying more attention to downtown development. They said their input had fallen on deaf ears for too long and demanded something be done.
The changes proposed by Warner are a "step in the right direction," said Baruti Artharee, regional director of diversity initiatives at Providence Medical Center. Artharee, who is a former executive for the commission, was among those who spoke at the meeting, along with state Sen. Avel Gordly, D-Portland.
"It is appropriate that the person reports directly to the executive director," Artharee said. "The key is finding someone who knows the community and who the community knows. It would be unfortunate to bring in someone from outside, which could take 12 to 18 months for them to get on board.
"Familiarity with the community is a big issue," he added.
Other changes also are in store for the commission. Jay Fernandez, who directs human resources, also will be responsible for staff development, information systems, facilities management, risk management and payroll.
Lori Sundstrom, who directs board administration, internal controls, performance measures and sustainability functions, will be the new central services director. Budget, finance, accounting, construction service, procurement, real estate and records functions will report to her.
Sundstrom also will temporarily assume responsibility for public affairs and community outreach, including construction workforce diversity and women-and minority-owned business programs until the new director is hired.
Warner eliminated the positions of chief administrative officer and executive officer.
Keith Witcosky will manage intergovernmental relations with the Portland City Council and other public agencies and will no longer direct policy and public affairs. He will report directly to Warner. Witcosky is assuming the duties of Rochelle Lessner, who resigned effective Sept. 29.
Lessner, a former aide to Mayor Tom Potter, was the Portland Development Commission's liaison to the mayor's office. City commissioners have claimed they could not get the response they need on many business matters from the commission.