PORTLAND — Maybe you have a long holiday shopping list, gatherings to attend and preparations to make for out-of-town company. Wouldn’t it be nice about now if you had unlimited vacation time?
Too bad you aren’t the mayor, a city commissioner or the city auditor in Portland. They have tough jobs, sure, but also an enviable perk: as much vacation time as they want.
With more than a month remaining in 2012, the six Portland politicians have taken off at least 3½ weeks each. Commissioner Randy Leonard has taken more than five weeks and Dan Saltzman nearly seven.
As elected officials, they answer only to voters. But vacation use has been an issue before. Charlie Hales, then a city commissioner and now the mayor-elect, famously took off more than nine weeks in 2001, quipping: “Being inside in Portland, Oregon, in August is a sin."
Should Portlanders care how often their city leaders vacation? Does it matter as long as decisions are made and bureaus run smoothly? Is it fair that elected leaders get more than 25-year city employees, who top out at five weeks’ vacation and three personal days? All reasonable questions, the leaders say. But don’t look for any reforms.
“I can certainly understand the perception of unfairness," said Commissioner-elect Steve Novick, adding that he’d be happy to impose restrictions on himself, with an exception for a honeymoon.
Mayor Sam Adams, known for his tireless work ethic, has reported 22 days, including a few due to illness. But Adams’ tally included three vacation days last week, when he was seen working in City Hall.
“What’s not noted is how much we work beyond 40 hours a week," Adams said.
True, the jobs aren’t limited to weekdays or bankers’ hours. But that’s also what the officials signed up for.
Gerry Verhoef, president of the City of Portland Professional Employees Association, said she can’t tell whether there’s a problem. But Verhoef did point to her union membership of more than 700 employees, including planners and engineers. They get a set amount of vacation and have to schedule it against the demands of their jobs. She figures those standards should apply to elected officials, too.
“There has to be a balancing act of the use of vacation against what their commitments are for work," she said.