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PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The Portland Business Alliance will challenge the title of the Nov. 8 general election measure to reform city government in Multnomah County Circuit Court next week.
The board of the city’s chamber of commerce has not taken a stand on all of the changes proposed by the 20-member Charter Commission. But the organization believes that including all of them in a single measure violates a legal prohibition against multiple subjects in one measure.
The proposal would amend many section of the charter dealing with elections, administration of city bureaus and more. The City Attorney’s Office filed a ballot title on Thursday, July 8, that reads: “Should City Administrator, supervised by Mayor, manage Portland with twelve Councilors representing four districts making laws and voters ranking candidates?”
The board will take a stand on whatever measure or measures are certified for the ballot after the court ruling. Any voter has until July 15 to challenge the title in court.
Portland elections officials previously disqualified a similar proposed initiative — 2020-PDX01 — because it included too many subjects.
“2020-PDX01 does but comply with the single-subject analytical framework because it seeks to amend multiple provisions of the City Charter, and not all of the amendment are connected by a single unifying purpose. For example, the operations of City Council is not logically connected to changing the voting system for all elected City officials,” read the City Elections Office determination of Dec. 16, 2020.
The City Attorney’s Office said the single-topic requirement only applies to initiative petitions in a March 2 memo to the commission. But the opinion admits the council has historically limited measures referred to Portland voters to single subjects to avoid legal challenges.
Portland currently is the only major city in the country where the City Council is elected citywide and its members both set policies and oversee bureaus assigned to them by the mayor without a professional manager. Changes proposed by the Charter Commission would:
• Create a City Council that focuses on setting policy and a mayor elected citywide to run the city’s day-to-day operations, with the help of a professional city administrator. The mayor could only vote to break a tie and would not have veto power.
• Expand the council from four to 12 commissioners with three members elected in four newly created geographic districts.
• Allow voters to rank candidates in order of their preference, with the top three candidates in each district winning without runoff elections.
Supporters say the changes will increase representation of marginalized communities, allow the council members to focus on important policy issues, and eliminate the “silos” among bureaus that have hampered cooperation.
Critics say the multi-member districts with rank-chose voting are experimental and could have unintended consequence.
Although it has yet to decertified for the ballot, campaign committees have already been formed on both sides of the issue.
The measure is supported by Portlanders for Charter Reform, a political action committee supported by Building Power for Communities of Color, the political engagement arm of the nonprofit Coalition of Communities of Color.
“The Charter Commission has advanced a comprehensive measure for much-needed reform to the November ballot. The current system simply isn’t working for Portlanders. Now, we have a chance to adopt a real solution that will bring more voices into our local democracy by allowing voters to rank candidates, establishing district representation, and creating a more effective and functional government with a city administrator. This is a comprehensive ballot measure that will increase accountability, responsiveness, and inclusiveness in our city government,” Building Power for Communities of Color said.
The measure is opposed by the Partnership for Common Sense Government. It was founded by two former staff members for the late Mayor Bud Clark, Chuck Duffy and Steven Moskowitz, and charter commission member, administrative law judge and former council candidate Vadim Mozyyrsky.
“Should the measure, as proposed, be certified for the ballot, the Partnership for Common Sense Government would be opposed and lead a campaign to urge a NO vote on the measure. We agree our present government needs serious reform, but the present proposal is deeply flawed. After the measure is defeated, we will work with the Council and other groups to put a sensible measure on the ballot soon,” said Duffy.
It is also opposed by the Ulysses PAC, which was originally formed by Portland City Commission Mingus Mapps to support charter reform.
“We know that many voters believe that the Charter Commission proposal represents a once in a 10 year chance to make a significant change in city government. However, if the Charter Commission proposal is turned down in November, as we think-it should be, Commissioner Mapps is committed to leading a City Council effort to submit an alternative proposal in 2023 based upon common sense, equity, consensus, and transparency. The ultimate goal of Ulysses PAC is to strongly support Charter Reform for Portland,” the committee said.
In response to the opposition, Building Power for Communities of Color said, “We’re disappointed that a handful of discontented insiders have chosen to oppose this measure and are working to confuse voters about this measure. They are simply seeking to advance their political interests by maintaining the status quo. Polling consistently shows a majority of voters want the entirety of this measure. The truth is that Portlanders want real, meaningful change, and this November, we have the chance to do that.”
A previous Portland Tribune story on the issue can be found here.