PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Portland City Council sent a letter Wednesday to the committee tasked with helping the city implement the voter-approved charter reform after the committee claimed that the city has given the group inconsistent orders on how to do its job.
In the letter — signed by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and commissioners Dan Ryan, Carmen Rubio, Rene Gonzalez, and Mingus Mapps — the city council members emphasized that the Government Transition Advisory Committee should not perform oversight of the government transition. Instead, the city says the committee should act as an advisory body that also has a hand in educating the public about the new form of government.
“GTAC was never intended to operate as an oversight body over the entire transition process,” the council said in the Aug. 23 letter.
The city added that onboarding materials given to GTAC state their role is to ensure “effective and efficient implementation of the November 2022 voter-approved charter amendments, advising on the charter amendment transition plan, the community education and engagement plan, and communicating with stakeholders to ensure input is meaningfully integrated.”
The letter continues, “it is clear some members of the GTAC interpreted the task of ensuring effective and efficient implementation to mean the GTAC would have oversight and make recommendations on all work taking place during this transition window, not solely what was voted in on the November 2022 ballot. Council regrets the language in the application and onboarding materials were not clearer in defining the scope of the committee, contributing to some confusion.”
In their Aug. 11 letter to the City Council, GTAC also expressed concerns about changes to the charter reform proposed by commissioners Ryan and Gonzalez. GTAC was concerned that it was not consulted about the proposals.
In Wednesday’s letter, the council emphasized that the committee was created to advise the city on implementing the changes rather than advising on “potential future reforms.”
The City Council also clarified what is out of the scope of the committee’s duties.
“Over the last several months, various members of the Charter Transition staff, the Chief Administrative Officer, and staff from the mayor’s office have reiterated the GTAC would not be asked to assist in or advise on the development of the city reorganization process,” City Council’s letter stated. “Council Resolution 232-3023 does state the GTAC will develop its own workplan, but it does not state the GTAC will determine its scope of work. The scope, as communicated, is specific to the implementation of the November 2022 voter-approved Charter amendments.”
In the coming weeks, the City Council said, the Chief Administrative Officer will propose how the city should reorganize its structure. Then, the Charter Transition Team will share the proposal with stakeholders, including GTAC, for feedback before the proposal is submitted for review to the City Council.
According to the City Council, GTAC should advise the city on developing a description for the city administrator role and changes to the city code in order to have a mayor/city administrator form of government.
City Council also emphasized the committee’s role in educating the public about the government transition — including the role of new districts and offices and ranked-choice voting.
When it comes to the City Council communicating with GTAC, the letter states that a city charter transition staff member who is assigned to support the committee will be the “communication channel” between the groups. City Council said it is up to GTAC to determine how often the groups communicate.
City Council’s letter comes as a response to GTAC’s Aug. 11 letter — which was first reported by Willamette Week — voicing concern that there were clear discrepancies between what the city initially assigned the committee to do, and how the city has actually handled Portland’s charter reform implementation in recent months.
The city’s “Transition Implementation Progress Report” published on March 8, states that the 15-member committee will develop a work plan to “advise the city council, the chief administrative officer and the city transition team on issues related to the development and implementation of the transition plan.”
However, GTAC said that the city is now placing previously unspecified limits on this role.
“In the past month, we have realized that there is not a shared understanding between committee members, the mayor, and city council about the role of GTAC,” the letter reads.
According to the letter, the city told GTAC during a June 6 meeting that it should continue to oversee the city council’s future organization and procedures, but not deliberate on the implementation of the new city manager position. However, GTAC co-chairs David Burnell and Lory Hefele argued in the letter that the creation of the city manager role is well within the committee’s assigned power.
“Since the organization of the city under the newly created city administrator role is a crucial component of [the] charter implementation, it is clear to us that this falls firmly within GTAC’s role of ‘advising the city on the November 2022 voter-approved Charter amendments transition plan,’” the letter states.
“There have been several instances that have eroded our confidence that there is a shared understanding of the role of GTAC between the Committee and City leadership,” GTAC added.
The 15-member committee, which was appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council in March, requested that Wheeler provide a written response clarifying GTAC’s role in the government transition process by Aug. 21.
Without the clarification of their roles, GTAC members said they were unsure of how to carry out their duties.
“Owing to these experiences, we find ourselves unclear about how we can fulfill our role of ensuring effective and efficient implementation of the charter amendments,” GTAC said. “Crucially, this means that we cannot carry out a vital task: Ensuring transition alignment with the City’s core values of transparency, communication, and collaboration. Finally, due to this lack of clarity, there has been a tremendous waste of precious meeting and staff time debating our role.”