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Leonard says it was time to go

Commissioner won't seek re-election; denies retaliation in firing of 9-1-1 system director
by: tribune file photo City Commissioner Randy Leonard announced this week that he would not run for re-election in 2012.

City Commissioner Randy Leonard announced the end of his political career the same way he ran it - surrounded in controversy.

Leonard wrote Wednesday on his City Hall blog that he would not run for re-election in 2012. Two days earlier, he fired the director of the office initially responsible for overseeing the replacement 9-1-1 system that has been plagued with problems since it was activated on April 17.

According to Portland police union President Daryl Turner, as director of the Public Safety Systems Revitalization Program Lisa Vasquez had been one of the few people in authority to raise questions about the management of the system. He believes Vasquez was dismissed in retaliation for her comments. Leonard says the problems are relatively minor and being fixed.

'People are already afraid to talk publicly about the problems with the system. What kind of message does that send to them?' asks Turner, who notes that two other critics of the system have been pressured to keep quiet.

One is Jim Churchill, a senior systems business analyst at the city Bureau of Emergency Communications who retired last year. The other is T.J. Browning, a citizen activist that Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees BOEC, is trying to remove from one of its advisory boards.

Leonard denies he fired Vasquez because she questioned the faulty replacement 9-1-1 system. In fact, Leonard says she never raised such concerns with him, even though he is in charge of the Public Safety Systems Revitalization Program and met with her regularly.

'To the contrary, I want people to talk to me about any problems they see with the system,' says Leonard, who declined to discuss the firing further on advice of the city attorney's office.

The conflict is typical of the reactions Leonard frequently engendered during his nine years on the City Council. A former Portland firefighter and union leader, Leonard was not afraid to tackle controversial issues. He will be remembered for pushing to replace the city's open reservoirs in the face of public opposition. He also banned the popular practice of using duct tape on sidewalks to reserve seats several days in advance of the annual Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade.

But Leonard is also a former state legislator who knew how to cut deals. He blustered in public but negotiated council agreements to rejoin the FBI Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force and bring Major League Soccer to town.

More than halfway through his third term, Leonard says he knew it was time to move on.

'I could tell it was time to go during my last term as (Portland firefighter) union president and my last term as legislator,' Leonard says.

The decision also comes around two months after Leonard's 31-year-old daughter committed suicide after battling depression and addiction.

But Leonard still has more than 15 months to serve, more than enough time to shake things up and settle them down again.