Doyle finds trips to Washington, D.C., and Japan essential to grant funding and economic development

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle heads to his next destination from City Hall on Southwest Griffith Drive. The strong-mayor form of government has its detractors, but Denny Doyle has learned how the arrangement works to benefit the city he leads.

“You tend to get in doors you otherwise wouldn’t get into,” he says. “It’s helped me develop key relationships with people in the White House.”

He’s on a friendly basis with senators, leaders of federal committees, and power brokers such as U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx; David Agnew, director of intergovernmental affairs; and Jay Williams, with the White House’s Office of Governmental Affairs. He’s even had one-on-one time with President Barack Obama.

“These are people I would’ve never met without walking down the hallway,” he says of his trips to Washington, D.C., on Beaverton’s behalf. “In the business world, that’s how it works — going and talking with people. For me, that’s essential.”

Doyle regularly drives to Salem or flies to the nation’s capital — and somewhat less regularly to farther flung locales — to seek federal grants for city renewal and development projects, generate interest from business owners and build relationships beneficial to current and future Beaverton plans.

Doyle’s annual travel budget — set and scrutinized by the City Council and citizen-based Budget Committee — hovers around $20,000, with $19,000 proposed for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year. For the past two budget cycles, the mayor’s claimed expenses have come in below the budgeted amount, noted Bill LaMarche, the city’s public information director.

“The mayor is not eating at five-star restaurants,” he notes. “He’s very frugal.”

Last year, Doyle logged approximately 50 days of travel, according to records provided by the city. The visits included two U.S. Conference of Mayor’s meetings — in Las Vegas and Washington, where he visited five times — an April Business Oregon/Japan America Society of Oregon Trade Mission in Tokyo and a CEOs for Cities Fall Meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich.

In 2012, the mayor was away for at least 60 days on business travel. Events ranged from a January U.S. Conference of Mayor’s leadership meeting on metro exports and ports in Jacksonville, Fla., to Sister Cities Exchange anniversary events in Gotemba, Japan, in July, and Birobizhan, Russia, in September.

Doyle is not alone among public officials from the Portland area on many of these out-of-state events. He’s often rubbing shoulders with the mayors of Hillsboro, Portland, Tigard, Gresham and Tualatin.

“They don’t go to everything, nor do I,” Doyle says. “But they’re out there looking for opportunities. I think it’s commendable.”

Flesh on flesh

While not always successful, vigorous lobbying for federal grants is considered essential for any city expecting to get noticed in the increasingly competitive process.

“There is no guarantee that funding is going to happen, but it puts us in a much better position,” says Beaverton City Councilor Marc San Soucie. “You have to go and talk to people to get results. You can’t do that sitting at home and talking on the phone. Through handshakes or whatever it takes to (establish) relationships. That’s a big deal.

“It’s one of the things he’s really good at,” the councilor adds, noting he finds the amount budgeted for Doyle’s travel within reason for what the trips often accomplish. “He’s pretty tireless at this.”

Some recent successes Doyle — now midway through his second mayoral term — credits to travel and well-placed connections include:

  • A $1 million Community Challenge Grant for planning the Creekside District redevelopment of the area between Canyon Road and Hall Boulevard.

  • A $400,000 Brownfields Assessment Grant to study the reuse of formerly industrial sites in the city.

  • A $1.6 million grant from Centers for Disease Control to develop a collaborative, multifaceted public health facility in Central Beaverton.

  • And $20,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to fund the Ten Tiny Dances performance series.
  • Most recently, Doyle traveled with other members of the Business Oregon coalition to Japan from April 12 to 21 to meet with representatives from manufacturing companies with an interest in expanding or relocating businesses in the Portland area. Those joining him on the mission included Metro regional government Council President Tom Hughes, Charlie Allcock of Portland General Electric, Business Oregon Director Tim McCabe and others from the Portland Development Commission and the Port of Portland.

    The day before he left, Doyle shared his travel plans in an email notification to the five city councilors — a rare occurrence, some of them say.

    “As we all know, jobs are crucial for our economy and our citizens, and I will continue to push for more opportunities for Beaverton,” he said. “I am excited to be a part of this contingency.”

    The coalition returned with a signed memorandum of understanding designed to bring representatives from at least a dozen companies to visit Oregon — Beaverton included — later this summer.

    “This is all about future manufacturing for Beaverton as well as bringing more jobs to the city,” LaMarche said.

    Phil Keisling, director of the Center for Public Service at Portland State University’s Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, says Doyle, whose strong-mayor role he likens to a company executive, has a financial obligation to broaden Beaverton’s marketability.

    “To have the CEO of (an) organization not spend part of his time in places where money was, I think that would be a problem,” he says. “If the bulk of his travel is going to warm places in the middle of the winter, that would raise a different set of questions. But the general principle of realities in 2014 is that local governments competing for discretionary dollars and trying to get noticed have to be interested in what the donor is interested in.

    “That requires face-to-face meetings and gathering intelligence to better understand the opportunities.”

    Show me the money

    Not everyone is so convinced, however, that the goals of running a city of 92,000 residents and racking up frequent flier miles go hand in hand.

    South Beaverton resident Gary J. Kniss, a retired Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue firefighter, says he’s not against Doyle seeking grants and opportunities, provided the missions yield palpable, clearly articulated results.

    “I belong to quite a few organizations, and I travel on my own dime,” he says. “It’s always fun to see the people, but is there a fruitful benefit to taxpayers? Every time I went somewhere, I had to give a report, ‘Hey, look at this. This really came through.’ (Doyle) doesn’t make it widely known that he’s on a trip, why he’s going, what are the results and have they proven worthwhile to the city. I have never heard publicly what these numerous trips were yielding.”

    City Councilor Betty Bode agrees she would like more direct reports from the mayor’s travels and events.

    “I don’t know if Denny’s being a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars with the amount he gets from travel,” she says. “The City Council gets no report on the travel he does.”

    She’s concerned that Randy Ealy, the city’s chief administrative officer, spends too much time in an interim mayor role when Doyle is on the road.

    “I never hear about his travels before they’re happening,” she says of the mayor. “I usually only find out when Randy is mayor pro tem for another meeting. I don’t know if (Doyle’s) travel is paying off, because I don’t know where he’s going or what he’s doing.”

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