PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland City Council unanimously approved a resolution on Thursday that directs the city’s chief administrative officer Michael Jordan to develop a plan for carrying out the drastic changes that Portland voters agreed to make to the city’s charter in November.
The resolution also instructs city commissioners to develop 90-day action plans for their respective service districts in order to help these districts prepare for the change in government coming in 2025.
At the meeting, Jordan outlined the most significant changes that will need to be made to Portland’s city government in the next two years as it transitions to a district-form of government. This new form of government will divide the city into four regions, each represented by its own trio of council members. Jordan said that the most pressing issues facing the council ahead of the transition include: the drawing of the four districts, the creation of a city administrator position, and software changes that need to be made to the voting system as the city’s switches to a ranked-choice voting system.
“This is a very challenging position for you all,” Jordan told the council. “You not only have to operate this city in a structure that it’s been in for more than 100 years, but you also have to envision a new structure and a new way to govern, and you have to do that simultaneously.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler spearheaded the resolution’s 90-day action plan and said that the meeting was the latest step in the city’s government-transition process. In January, the mayor restructured the bureau duties held by commissioners into five service districts: Administration, Public Safety, Community and Economic Development, Public Works, and Culture and Livability. At Thursday’s meeting, each council member addressed how they plan to improve and prepare these service districts leading up to the 2025 transition.
“The resolution before you today acts as a roadmap for the next two years,” Wheeler said. “It identifies the transition process needed to comply with the ballot measure and formally directs the chief administrative officer Michael Jordan to lead that transition.”
As the Commissioner of Public Safety, Rene Gonzalez presented an idea for drastically reshaping Portland’s justice system at Thursday’s meeting. Gonzalez’s plan for addressing Portland’s rising crime rates, he said, would include the implementation of a municipal court. This would, in theory, allow the City of Portland to prosecute crimes, particularly misdemeanors, as it sees fit without the involvement of the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.
“Some 50 years ago, the city made the choice to outsource [prosecuting misdemeanors] to the county and the district attorney,” Gonzalez said. “We’d like the next 90 days to reevaluate some of the underpinnings in that decision. Specifically, to address something we’re all seeing and feeling today: High level, we’re prosecuting a fraction of the misdemeanors we used to in Multnomah County, that goes back more than a decade that predates any elected official [on the council].”
Commissioner Mingus Mapps also gave a notable presentation at Thursday’s meeting. While Mapps voted in favor of the resolution, he also expressed his disagreement with Wheeler’s 90-day action plan, calling it a “step away from best practices.”
“The problem with what we are doing today is this: We are defining and embarking on action plans before we have developed our strategic plan,” Mapps said. “In other words, with the 90-day action plan, we have given ourselves marching orders before we have decided where we want to go. Put bluntly, this 90-day action plan is an example of the ready, fire, aim school of public policy development.”
Jordan said that he hopes to have the “architecture” for the transitional plan in place by October of 2023. The city also plans to start making required changes in management by July of 2024. While addressing the council, Jordan said that budgeting for these changes will be “tough.” He also stressed the importance of providing a financially stable government for those elected to serve the public during the 2025 transition.
“Not only do we want to hand the organizational keys to a new council and a new mayor, and ultimately a new city administrator, where it can run pretty well at the beginning,” Jordan said. “We also have to be very cognizant of handing over to that same group a fiscally sustainable city where they come on board in January of 2025 and they’re not in a fiscal hole right off the bat.”