City Charter Commission Sends Proposed Amendments to Rework City Government and November Ballot Elections
On Monday evening, the 20-member Charter Review Commission proposed changes to Portland’s form of government that will now be presented to voters in the November ballot.
For the sixth time in 50 years, Portlanders will have the chance to see how the city’s unusual form of government works. Many say it’s overdue: Portland is the last major city in the United States to use the antiquated commission structure.
Three proposed changes, all grouped together, will appear on the ballot in November. Seventeen of 20 commissioners voted to pass the three changes, two more than the 15 “yes” votes needed to place the changes on the ballot without review by the mayor and city commissioners.
Here are the changes the charter review group wants voters to approve:
1. Voting by ranking
Voters rank candidates in order of preference, rather than voting for a single candidate. The use of ranked choice has expanded over the years and is now used in New York and San Francisco. (There are mixed reviews of its effectiveness.) Proponents say it paves the way for a more diverse and representative council body.
2. A council of 12 members elected by district
The city would be divided into four geographic districts, and three city council members would be elected per district by voters within those boundaries. Proponents argue the change would create better representation for voters than electing city commissioners as a whole, which is how the current system works.
3. Abandon the commission form of government
One of the most vocal criticisms of the commission form of government is that city commissioners, who may lack managerial or estate experience, are placed in command of massive offices. Under the new proposal, the mayor would have more powers and work with a city administrator who would oversee the offices. City council members would no longer oversee individual offices. Municipal commissioners currently act as administrators as well as decision makers; abandoning the current form of government is an effort to redirect elected officials to policy-making.
The mayor would appoint a city administrator under the new structure. This director must then be approved by the board. The mayor would not have veto power but would appoint the city attorney and the chief of police.
The proposal was not without disagreement.
Part of the commissioners’ directive is to consolidate the three changes into one question on the ballot rather than separate them.
There are downsides to each method: If voters were to be presented with three voting questions and approve one or two but not the entire package, it could create chaos. But if voters are presented with a question that incorporates all three changes — and one aspect of it turns out to be unacceptable to voters — the whole effort would be wasted.
It’s a question that two of the commission’s dissidents raised on Monday.
They worried that presenting all three changes in a single up or down vote could alienate voters who might otherwise be inclined to want a change.
Vadim Mozyrsky, who ran an unsuccessful primary campaign against Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, recounts WW the proposal that came out of the commission was a “Frankenstein proposal” where fragments of reforms that worked across the country were lumped together.
“It was about selecting various things and offering them as a remedy for the problems people have with the current system,” says Mozyrsky, who is also critical of putting all the proposed changes in one question on the ballot. vote. “It’s a pass or bail bet… We’re opening ourselves up to a legal challenge because of the wording and the confusion over what it actually means.”
Dr Melanie Billings-Yun, a charter commissioner who voted for the package, told WW the commission started by analyzing what had gone wrong in previous attempts at charter reform.
“It was seen as a top-down process and dumped on voters at the last minute…it was just about changing the form of government, and what people were really asking for was some sort of district representation that had been left out,” Billings-Yun says, and argues that picking an entirely new lineup shouldn’t be the concern. “We’re not going to model ourselves 100% on someone else’s city.”
She says the commission relied heavily on outreach to typically disenfranchised communities in Portland: “It’s been 105 years, and it’s time to give us a system that meets what we see as the greatest demands Portlanders.”
While nearly every member of the Portland City Council has publicly lamented the office form of government over the past year – particularly Commissioners Dan Ryan and Mingus Mapps and Mayor Ted Wheeler – sources within the City Hall say council members are concerned to varying degrees about the proposals that have come out of the committee.
David Knowles, a former municipal office manager, attorney and current charter review commissioner, also voted against the proposal. He says patching up the proposals could doom the measure.
“I think they’ve put together a proposal that’s either going to pass or fail by 1 or 2 percentage points. Either result is a loss,” Knowles said. WW“because it will continue to create divisions that seem to be dominant in our city politics.”
The city attorney’s office is now tasked with putting the proposals into a question to appear on the November ballot.