Portland charter group digging deeper on form of government, elections

Civic Affairs

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland’s charter commission has researched key topics in an effort to move the review process along and will soon talk to the public about their findings.

The commission created two subcommittees — form of government and city council elections — to look into how the charter review can address the community’s concerns moving forward. On topic of elections, subcommittee members are researching multi-member districts, council size, form of voting and timing of elections.

“Try to find alignment around different ways that we can improve the experience of elections for folks in Portland and aligning that with our hopes for a more participatory democracy,” said Robin Ye, who serves as co-chair for the city council elections subcommittee. “Getting more voices being heard in elections (and) also wanting government to be more responsive and accountable and reflects the communities that they serve.”

So far, the subcommittee has agreed to increase the size of city council and shift to a form of voting allows for a result in one election and captures people’s preferences.

Public comments for the city charter review have called for more geographic representation in elections, according to a presentation at the subcommittee’s last meeting.

Ye said members will work on researching form of voting, council size and constituency before their next meeting on Dec. 2. He added that the group is on time to present their findings to the greater charter commission in the near future.

As for form of government, the subcommittee’s latest meeting featured presentations from members discussing two forms of government: Mayor-council and council-manager.

A mayor-council form of government has a “weak” or “strong” position depending on how much authority is given to the mayor. The presentation at the meeting said that members assigned to explore that form of government proposed a variation called, executive mayor-legislative council.

“The distinctions in this variation are that instead of traditional unilateral power given to the mayor, power and authority is distributed to the legislative council in several ways, while still giving the mayor more executive authority,” according to documents from the meeting.

The other presentations focused on a council-manager form of government that would have a city manager selected, hired and fired by the city council. The city manager would also enforce the policies adopted by council and prepare the budget.

“We were collaborating in our groups to understand within those forms what types of nuances might be best to pursue given our shared outcomes that we would like that we’ve heard from both community and then both as Portlanders that we’d like to see come to fruition,” said Andrew Speer, a co-chair for the form of government subcommittee.

The subcommittee has agreed to increase the size of city council, remove the role of commissioner-in-charge of bureaus from commissioners and shift the management authority elsewhere, and clearly redefine the roles and responsibilities of the mayor and city council.

Candace Avalos, who serves on both subcommittees, said there can be some overlap between groups but are working together to make sure they’re on the same page.

“Obviously, the chairs of all the committees — we interact constantly to just kind of update each other and see what are the areas that like, ‘Okay, this decision you make over here is going to impact our decision over here in this way,’” Avalos said.

Community members will have an opportunity to learn more about the charter review and issues currently being researched by the commission in two different listening sessions. People will be able to join breakout rooms to have a community discussion on Portlanders’ lived experiences with city government.

The first listening session will be on Saturday, Nov. 13 from noon to 2 p.m. and the second on Tuesday, Nov. 16 from 6 to 8 p.m.

There will also be a recording and a short survey available to those who cannot attend. Future community listening sessions will take place in January 2022.

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