EDITOR: A first look at a new form of Portland city government

Here are the members of the current Portland City Charter Commission.
Here are the members of the current Portland City Charter Commission. (Courtesy of the City of Portland)

By Eric Norberg

April 30, 2022 at 8:00 p.m.

In this space, your editor has, on more than one occasion recently, expressed the view that Portland's odd form of city government — one adopted more than a century ago in emulation of a small community in Texas, but without ever implementing the requirements that made it work there — no longer seems to function effectively here.

And we've advocated for a more workable and representative form of government for the Rose City.

We have not been alone in this. At least two of the five members of our current City Council have advocated for the same thing. And, although Portland has been required, over the years to periodically review its form of government and give voters a chance to change it — change has not happened up until now. This may finally be the time it does.

The City Charter Commission, in one of these periodic reviews, and after months of debate, testimony, and polling, has come up with the tentative proposal that, when finalized in a month, Portland's voters are expected to vote on this November.

We present, below, the entire detailed press release that the Charter Commission issued on March 31, to introduce you to what the city government of Portland may be updated to, if the final measure — to be finalized in June — is passed by the voters this time around. And it's not yet too late to have your say. Here's the press release:


This November, Portland voters will likely decide on foundational issues for the City of Portland and its residents: the city's form of government and elections system.

The Portland Charter Commission reached a key milestone Thursday night, preliminarily agreeing on a package of reforms to advance to voters. All 20 Charter Commission members supported the package, which would recommend three major changes:

· Allowing voters to rank candidates in order of their preference, using ranked choice voting

· Four new geographic districts with three members elected to represent each district, expanding the city council to a total of 12 members

· A city council that focuses on setting policy and a mayor elected citywide to run the citys day‐to‐day operations, with the help of a professional city administrator

This proposal will make Portlands government more accountable, transparent, and effective, said Candace Avalos, a member of the Charter Commission who Co‐Chaired the Form of Government Committee. It positions us to get Portland moving in the right direction, and address our most pressing challenges expanding affordable housing, mitigating gun violence, building climate resilience, and improving the citys infrastructure.

This proposal reflects more than a year of work by the Charter Commission, an independent body appointed once a decade to evaluate Portlands structural document and recommend changes. Since December, 2020, the current commission [the members of which] represent a range of ages, backgrounds, and neighborhoods have conducted research and listened to community feedback.

More than 6,000 Portlanders have weighed in over the past year through public comment, surveys, and community discussions. Partnerships with community organizations have ensured participation from a diverse cross‐section of the city, including people who typically lack access to government decision‐making.

Charter Commissioners have heard Portlanders dissatisfaction with the status quo and say there is a groundswell of support to change Portlands ineffective form of government. Portland is the last major city in the U.S. that still has a commission form of government.

Community members want a city government that represents every area of the city through an expanded city council, elected by geographical districts.

The Charter Commission proposal was truly created by and for Portlanders, said Becca Uherbelau, a member of the Charter Commission who Chairs the Community Engagement Committee. Im proud that these recommendations are responsive to Portlanders calls for change.

Following the [March 31st] preliminary vote, the City Attorneys Office will draft the charter amendments. The Commission hopes to release the drafted amendments in early May.

Community members will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed package of reforms during a series of public hearings in May. The Charter Commission will take its final vote in mid‐June. At that point, at least 15 commissioners must say yes to send the proposal directly to Portland voters for the November 8, 2022, General Election.

Portlanders recognize we are at an inflection point this is the moment for change, said Debbie Kitchin, a Charter Commissioner who currently Co‐Chairs the Commission. A decade from now, Portlanders can look back on 2022 and feel proud that we made positive change happen.

Go to the Charter Commission website http://www.portland.gov/omf/charter‐review‐commission for more information, including upcoming public hearings, our latest progress report, public comment forms, and email update signup.

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