Ted Wheeler Describes Conflict Between Mayor, Police Commissioner Roles

By Ericka Cruz Guevarra (OPB)
April 13, 2018 7:12 p.m.
Ted Wheeler speaking at the second of two state of the city addresses April 13, 2018.

Ted Wheeler speaking at the second of two state of the city addresses April 13, 2018.

Abbie Winn / OPB

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, the sole possessor of bureau assignment powers on City Council, said Portland doesn't have a governance system where the mayor is in a position to hold a police commissioner accountable.


Wheeler, who is mayor and the Portland Police Bureau commissioner, said there are conflicts between his two jobs.

"With the officer involved shooting, people are out in front of my office with signs saying, 'Why aren't you speaking out on this? Why aren't you telling us more?,'" Wheeler said, speaking at the second of two state of the city addresses Friday.

"And the answer is: I'm the police commissioner and I have an obligation to the integrity of those investigations as well as setting the vision for the city, so sometimes there is that conflict."

In the Q&A formatted address, Wheeler offered an alternative to

Portland's commissioner structure of government

: "anything but," he said.


Related: State Of The City: Portland Mayor Addresses Policing After Weekend Shooting

They were the mayor's first unprepared remarks related to the Saturday shooting that left 48-year-old John Elifritz dead. Details about events leading up to the shooting show Elifritz appeared to exhibit suicidal tendencies before being shot at by seven Portland police officers and one Multnomah County Sheriff's Office deputy.

Wheeler said in his role as mayor and police commissioner, he has found himself in "awkward situations" because he has to speak simultaneously about police operations and a future vision for the bureau.

"And sometimes those things can be in conflict," Wheeler said.

Portland's mayor has the power to appoint whomever they want to city commissions, including the police commissioner position.

In 2010, former-Mayor Sam Adams pulled Commissioner Dan Saltzman from his job as police commissioner.

According to the city, Portland has the last remaining commission form of government among large cities in the United States.

Wheeler also used his state of the city address to defend questions about accountability at the police bureau because of the Elifritz shooting.

"There is accountability," Wheeler said. "There are now two investigations, plus a grand jury will be assembled. Yet already this week it's been suggested that I be shot, my life has been threatened, my family has been threatened, I have been protested."
He said he hopes people will wait for all the facts in the case to surface before they jump to conclusions about it.