PORTLAND, Ore. — A retired Portland city administrator made more than $22,000 a month last fall after being awarded no-bid contracts with the city and the school district, the Oregonian reported Sunday.
Officials said they generally prefer competitive contracting, but added that no one else offered Yvonne Deckard’s expertise.
The pay wasn’t out of line for specialized work and contracts didn’t violate any policies, but the deals raise questions about competition among contractors — particularly when a former employee is involved.
Deckard, 58, was earning the equivalent of $86 hourly when she retired in April as human resources director.
The city went on to pay her $300 an hour under a contract that spanned September through December whose total was not to exceed $23,000. That amount is just under the city’s $23,662 threshold for public notification.
On top of that, the Portland School District agreed to pay Deckard $15,000 a month for six months but isn’t tracking her hours.
Both contracts with Deckard were awarded without bidding processes, and neither the city nor school district explicitly required Deckard to provide any written, tangible product.
A recent city audit concluded that Portland needs stronger monitoring to ensure the city doesn’t contract with current employees or their family members. No one, however, has tackled the issue of employees-turned-consultants.
“In general, I think this is not a good idea,” LaVonne Griffin-Valade, the city auditor, wrote in an email. “It gives the appearance of cronyism and unfairness, and it probably lacks the transparency the City professes to value. That said, clearly the City believes there are special circumstances where doing so is called for. That’s where the need for monitoring comes into play.”
Deckard said she agreed to the work after being pursued by Portland Chief Administrative Officer Jack Graham and schools Superintendent Carole Smith.
“No matter how uniquely qualified I am, I don’t need this,” Deckard said of having to answer questions from The Oregonian. “I have the professional experience and expertise to do the jobs I’m doing.”
Deckard earned a reputation during her 30-year career with Portland as a straight-talking negotiator and problem-solver.
She retired with a public-employee pension paying $10,843 a month. She formed YLD Consulting in July, charging hourly rates of $300 to $350 for public agencies, and $400 to $500 for private companies.
Deckard was sought out by Graham to coach Bryant Enge, hired last February to run the Internal Business Services Bureau at $146,972 a year. Deckard was also brought in to help Enge navigate issues involving race. Like Graham and Enge, Deckard is African American.
Enge said his can-do attitude drew resistance. He and other city leaders received anonymous letters alleging he won his job because of his race, he said, adding that at least one letter contained a racial epithet.
“I was trying to bring them (staffers) together around several key values that I had,” Enge said. “There was some pushback. And there was some racial overtones associated with that pushback.”
Graham said the situation was “going south very rapidly.” He said “it was in the best interest of that division that I brought Yvonne in.”
“I think she could relate to issues that Bryant was dealing with,” Graham said.
Race was not mentioned when Graham wrote a justification in September for hiring Deckard without a bidding process. He cited her role in helping create the bureau in 2009.
At the Portland School District, Deckard was the “ideal” — and only — candidate when she was hired July 30 to help district leaders prepare for union negotiations and to advise Smith, the superintendent, on political strategy, said Robb Cowie, a school district spokesman.
Cowie said the district was “operating from a place of diminished capacity,” having lost its human resources director Smith’s chief of staff.
The district agreed to pay Deckard $90,000 over a six-month period that ends Jan. 31. The district has no documentation showing efforts to gauge appropriate costs.