PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For those wondering what Portland’s charter commission has been up to, there’s now a new report detailing the group’s latest progress.
The commission released its second progress report which provides an overview and analysis of the community engagement to date, an outline of shared agreements around certain topics and problems they have addressed so far.
Other topics include benefits and critiques of different policy approaches along with next steps.
The group has been working for months, discussing Portland’s form of government and city council elections with the public
KOIN 6 News put together six takeaways from the 25-page report. To read the full report, click here.
No. 1: Voters will soon have a say
The commission intends to put its recommendations on the form of government and city council elections on the November 2022 ballot. KOIN 6 News has reported on the history of Portland’s form of government.
No. 2: Shift city council from at-large seats, increase the size of city council
This is one of three agreements the commission has agreed upon. According to the report, the agreements are supported by a “significant” majority of the commissioners.
The group cites Portland’s growing population over the last few decades as a reason to increase the number of seats.
“Historically, candidates of choice for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color as well as other political minority groups, have lacked access, power, and representation in Portland city hall,” the report said.
Considering city commissioners are currently elected at large, the report said, city commissioners have resided in the Portland downtown area or west of the Willamette River in significantly higher proportions.
“This is a major problem. Portlanders are underrepresented compared to cities of similar size in the United States,” according to the commission, which is currently considering 9 to 15 members to serve on the council.
As for geographic representation, the commission agrees with calls from the public to shift city council from all at large seats to a system that includes district-based geographic representation.
“Dividing Portland into districts so that elected leaders can represent geographic areas of the city instead of the entire city also helps ensure that East Portland residents, who have been continually shut out from representation and political attention in city hall despite making up a large part of the city population and landmass, have representation,” the document noted.
However, no decision has been made when it comes to what the geographic representation will look like, despite the commissioners favoring the concept of multi-member districts.
The report says multi-member districts for Portland would mean that more than one elected leader would represent each geographic area, and multiple city councilors would be elected out of the same pool of candidates.
No. 3: Shift form of government in which city councilors do not directly manage bureaus
The report claims the supposed benefit of the commission form of government is not being fulfilled in modern-day Portland.
“Additionally, the mayor assigns and reassigns bureaus, and Portlanders do not know which bureaus a candidate for office will manage. The commission continues to hear that this form of government creates siloes, avoids accountability, and lacks transparency,” according to the report.
This could provide councilors the opportunity to only focus on legislation, such as making laws, engaging residents and bringing community voices into decision-making.
The commission also discusses a “chief executive,” whether that be a mayor, chief administrator, managing director, or a combination of executive positions to have a single office in charge of coordinating the city’s administrative functions.
The form that the chief executive will take is yet to be decided.
No. 4: Form of voting that allows a decision in one election, eliminates the primary, and voting method focused on people’s preferences
According to the report, a key benefit to updating Portland’s form of voting includes Portlanders having the option to “vote their conscience and worry less about strategic voting.”
The report mentions two forms of voting, including the “Score Then Automatic Runoff,” in which voters rate candidates on a scale of zero to five, with zero indicating no support and five indicating maximum support.
With eliminating the May primary, the report said, the goal would be to include more voices that have a say on the city council in the November election — considering turnout is historically higher.
No. 5: Community survey provides insight
In partnership with the Coalition of Communities of Color, the commission launched a multi-lingual survey in January that asked people how they would like to be served by the city government and how they would like to be represented by city leaders.
In total, there were 2,977 survey responses.
The results show 57.6% of respondents said the mayor should have more power than a city council member to ensure there is one leader with the responsibility to lead the city and be accountable to voters. About one-third of those who answered said the mayor should be allowed to supervise city departments.
As for who should be responsible for hiring and firing the heads of city bureaus that help deliver our city services, 33.6% said a non-elected city administrator that is supervised by both the mayor and the city council.
More than half of those surveyed said they would like to rank candidates for city council in order of their preference when voting.
No. 6: What’s next
The commission will spend the remainder of March hearing from the public and key stakeholders and updating progress reports based on continued discussion and investigation into reform options, with an emphasis on finding a cohesive package of reforms that fit together and makes sense for Portland in 2022 and beyond, according to the report.
“The goal is to conclude March 2022 with a preliminary vote on which recommendations to send for charter amendment drafting and financial analysis,” the commission added.