Dante James, Portland's equity director may temporarily work for Oakland – OregonLive.com
Dante James, Portland’s top equity leader and one of the city’s highest paid employees, may temporarily work for the city of Oakland, California.
James, the Office of Equity and Human Rights director, has been talking for months with the Bay Area city, which approved creating an equity office this summer.
Oakland’s City Council must still approve the “loaned executive” deal, which could happen as soon as next week.
James, 57, would help Oakland set up the program and advise the city as it hires a director.
James and Mayor Charlie Hales’ staff say the unusual situation would be a win-win: James would spread the best practices of Portland’s racial equity program to a West Coast city, and Oakland would pay James’ salary as long as he works there.
“It increases the visibility and relevance of the city of Portland in the work that we’re doing,” James said Monday.
Anna Kanwit, Portland’s Human Resources director, said she couldn’t recall Portland loaning one of its 23 bureau directors to another city. A sewer bureau staffer worked briefly for the state, Kanwit said in an email, but during a leave of absence.
James, who earns $147,534 a year, won’t take a leave. Judith Mowry, his senior policy adviser, would handle his duties.
“My staff is completely up to speed with everything that I’m doing,” James said, adding that would be in communication and would come back to Portland periodically.
Hales, who oversees the equity office, signed off on the plan.
Josh Alpert, Hales’ chief of staff, called the proposal a big compliment for Portland. “We wanted to afford him the opportunity to spread the work that he’s doing,” Alpert said.
Portland hired James in 2012 to lead the newly created equity office. His small staff promotes discussion of institutionalized racism in government and proposes strategies to acknowledge those issues and reduce barriers and disparities across the city.
Oakland Council member Desley Brooks first proposed the office in February. Dana King, James’ sister and a former television anchor and Oakland City Council candidate, suggested Brooks contact her brother for advice.
James said Oakland wanted him to apply to lead the office, but he declined: “My commitment is still to the city of Portland.”
The conversation shifted to, “OK, how can we get your expertise?” Brooks and James talked on the phone, then met in Seattle at the Governing for Racial Equity conference in early June.
“Portland is known as a leader on this,” Brooks said.
Oakland wants its office running by the end of 2015.
— Andrew Theen