The director of Portland’s bureau focused on promoting equity within City Hall unexpectedly resigned Thursday.
Lisa Watson has led the Office of Equity and Human Rights since May 2022. In a letter to her staff Thursday afternoon, Watson suggested that her decision to leave was driven by incompatibility with the elected official recently appointed to oversee her bureau, Commissioner Dan Ryan.
“It is time for me to move on and for the Commissioner to find a director who is able to effectively and efficiently move his vision forward,” Watson wrote.
Watson reiterated this concern in her resignation letter sent directly to Ryan, which OPB obtained through a public records request..
“Over the course of the last several weeks since Mayor Wheeler reassigned the Commissioners to new bureaus and Service Areas,” she said, “I have come to realize that this new structure is not a fit for me and my leadership style.”
Under Portland’s unique commission form of government, City Council members serve as both legislators and day-to-day administrators over a portfolio of city agencies. The mayor decides which bureaus commissioners lead.
Ryan was appointed to oversee Watson’s bureau in January. This change was accompanied by direction from Mayor Ted Wheeler for Ryan to conduct an “organizational assessment on the effectiveness of the Office of Equity and Human Rights” within 90 days, as part of a citywide plan to prepare bureaus for a transition to a new form of city government in 2025. (Portland voters agreed to abandon the commission system last year.)
Ryan was given similar direction to his new oversight of the Office of Community & Civic Life, the city agency that handles neighborhood issues. Michael Montoya, the interim director of that bureau, announced a temporary leave of absence several hours before Watson announced her resignation Thursday. Montoya said he needed to leave to attend to “personal matters.”
Watson will not receive severance pay from the city. Ryan’s chief of staff, Kellie Torres, said that his office will announce an interim leadership plan for the Office of Equity and Human Rights this week.
Watson expressed regret in having to step down in her letter to bureau staff.
“I wanted nothing more than to continue to support your incredible work,” Watson wrote.