PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance filed suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court on Friday to require the Charter Commission’s city government reform proposal to be submitted as separate measures.
The commission has submitted a single measure for the Nov. 8 general election ballot that makes multiple changes in many sections of the charter. The lawsuit filed on July 15 by Andrew Hoan contends that violates legal restrictions against multiple subject in a single ballot measure.
“Plaintiff is concerned that the coupling of the good and expected reforms to the city’s administration will be brought down at the ballot by the improvised concepts,” reads the lawsuit first reported by Willamette Week. “Plaintiff wants the Charter Commission to re-submit the same charter reforms to voters in multiple measures so that Portland’s voters have the choice to agree with all, none, or some of the Charter reforms.”
Lawyers for the alliance had previously asked city elections officials to reject the ballot title for the measure for the same reason. The July 8 letter said the city had previously rejected a similar proposed initiative — 2020-PDX01 — with even fewer subjects for that reason.
“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 operation 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.
City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero said in a Tuesday, July 12 letter to the alliance’s lawyer that her office does not review measures approved by a Charter Commission. Constitutional reviews conducted by the Auditor’s Office are authorized in City Code for proposed initiative petitions prior to the signature-gathering required to qualify them to the ballot.
The City Attorney’s Office filed a ballot title on Thursday, July 8, that reads: “Should city administrator, supervised by mayor, manage Portland with 12 councilors representing four districts making laws and voters ranking candidates?”
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-chosen voting are experimental and could have unintended consequences.
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. It is opposed by the Partnership for Common Sense Government, which 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. The measure is also opposed by the Ulysses PAC, which was originally formed by Portland City Commission Mingus Mapps to support charter reform.
A previous Portland Tribune story on the issue can be found here.
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