PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For years, Portlanders have talked about changing the form of city government to represent the city in a more fair way — electing commissioners from specific areas of the city.
On Thursday, the Portland City Council appointed 20 people to a new Charter Review Commission, a group selected from 300 applicants. A commission convenes every 10 years and they could decide to suggest changing Portland’s leadership, adding a city manager position who would be in charge of all the bureaus and report to the mayor and the commissioners.
The commission will also discuss changing the way commissioners are elected. Currently, each city commissioner is an at-large position, voted on by all residents. The change could change the commission spots being geographically-specific to have more equitable representation.
Some of those on the new charter commission think now is the time the idea of district representation will move forward.
“I think what makes this time different is that there is more ability for public weigh-in and buy-in through the use of technology,” Portland Charter Review Commission member Salome Chimuku told KOIN 6 News.
Hanna Osman, who is an assistant city planner, is another one of the people named to the Charter Review Commission.
“If we choose to move to districts rather than at-large that would make commissioners have an area that represents and be more accountablr to have needs met and what they want to see in Portland,” Osman said.
Some members said the change might also make it easier for diverse candidates to run for office if they didn’t have to spend so much money campaigning throughout the entire city.
A city manager with the expertise to oversee all the bureaus would keep commissioners from trying to protect their own bureaus and allow them to focus on what’s best for the city overall, say those in favor of the plan.
The Charter Review Commission will also look at other issues and could suggest changes from housing to climate change.
Although the City Council approved the commission members appointed, they will operate independently and whatever they end up recommending will have to go out for a public vote before approval.
In 2019, KOIN 6 News anchor Jeff Gianola looked at this issue in his story, “Portland, Oregon: The city that doesn’t work?”
At that point, experts said the Portland City Council is the most outdated form of city government compared to other major cities.
“We’re one of the few cities left in the United States that has a commission form of government,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said.
The commission form of government, often referred to as the Galveston Plan, was first introduced in 1901 in Galveston, Texas. In this system, voters elect commissioners citywide rather than by district. Portland voters approved it in 1913 and still operates with six elected leaders for the City Council — the mayor and five commissioners.
Portland is the only major US city with this type of government. Even Galveston abandoned the commission in 1960. Seattle overwhelmingly voted to move away from it in 2013.