PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Portland voters will be asked to change the city’s form of government to include a single bureau manager and a larger City Council mostly elected from geographic districts with multiple candidate choices in the Nov. 2022 general election.
Those broad recommendations are included in a report issued by the Charter Review Commission authorized to refer the measure to the ballot on Monday, March 7. Many details remain to be decided, however. They include whether the bureau manager will be the mayor or an appointed professional, the size of the new council, the number and boundaries of the geographic districts, how many commissioners will represent each district, and how they will be chosen.
The 20-member commission has been considering changes since December 2021. The report said the commission will make its final recommendations by March 31 and the measure will be referred to the ballot by July 7.
“The Commission will spend the remainder of March hearing from the public and key stakeholders and updating progress reports based on continued discussion and investigation into reform options, with an emphasis on finding a cohesive package of reforms that fit together and makes sense for Portland in 2022 and beyond,” the report said.
Portland is the only major American city where council members oversee bureaus assigned to them by the mayor. The number of council members — five, counting the mayor — is also small for a city of its size. And the fact they are all elected citywide is also unusual. Critics, including Mayor Ted Wheeler and the City Club of Portland, say the current system hinders bureaus from effectively working together to solve problems. The elected officials overseeing them may not know anything about management or their responsibilities.
According to the report, the recommendations being refined will allow bureaus to work better together and allow for greater representation on the council. It has long been dominated by white males from Southwest and inner Northeast and Southeast Portland.
“Despite Portland’s continued growth, especially within the last few decades, the number of seats on City Council has not kept up pace, depriving Portlanders of political representation fit for complex cities of our size and decreasing the sheer number of opportunities for diverse communities and interests to elect candidates of choice. Historically, candidates of choice for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color as well as other political minority groups, have lacked access, power, and representation in Portland city hall,” the report said.
The most complicated recommendation concerns how commissioners from the geographic districts will be elected. A majority of the review commission opposes the current system of a primary election that can be won by any candidate that receives more than 50% or the vote, or a runoff at the general election among the top two vote-getters if no one wins. The report said the commission is considering forms of voting that have never been tried in Portland before. They are: ranked-choice voting (RCV) in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots, and Score Then Automatic Runoff (STAR) in which voters rate candidates on a scale of zero to five, with zero indicating no support and five indicating maximum support.
“Key benefits from updating and modernizing our form of voting are to allow for voters to have a fuller accounting of their preferences for the election shown on the ballot and allow them to vote their conscience and worry less about strategic voting,” the report said.
The report can be found here.
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More information and opportunities for involvement can be found at www.portland.gov/omf/charter-review-commission.