Opinion: Oregon City's Charter should be difficult to change
Oregon City commissioners propose to amend our historic City Charter with three measures on the May 17 ballot.
Measure 3-579 would eliminate term limits for elected officials.
Measure 3-580 would demote the mayor to essentially a commissioner with a gavel.
Measure 3-583 would replace our current electoral system with a "winner take all" system.
Our City Charter, not unlike our national Constitution, should be difficult to change. There are two time-honored methods of doing this. One is through a grassroots movement. That is, if there is an issue of such magnitude that an individual or group of citizens want to modify the Charter, they have the ability to use Oregon's initiative process, gather signatures, and put the issue on the ballot. Optionally, if the City Commission feels there is cause to modify the Charter, they have the authority to establish a citizens' Charter Commission to clearly define the issue or issues, deliberate over the best solutions, and make a proposal for the city commissioners to consider placing on the ballot.
For these three proposed Charter amendments, neither of these methods was used. There was no citizens' initiative. The City Commission simply took it upon themselves to place these proposed amendments on the ballot with only very limited citizen input.
Measure 3-579 — Eliminate term limits — vote no!
Oregon City voters 22 years ago passed Measure No. 3-96, establishing term limits for the position of mayor of Oregon City, by 61% of the vote.
In May 2020, Wilsonville approved term limits for its City Council in Ballot Measure 3-556 by nearly 65% of the vote.
By contrast, Gladstone — without term limits — elected the same mayor for 35 years! Do we want this for Oregon City?
People understand the wisdom of having experienced individuals run their city. They also understand the advantage of fresh perspectives. Commissioner Rocky Smith was recently quoted in this newspaper as saying that term limits provide a mechanism by which "someone who's been involved in the city to take a break where they can reconnect to the community." This paper reported that "Smith said he liked the city's current system."
People want term limits. Don't eliminate them.
Measure 3-580 — Restrict mayoral powers — no!
City Charter shows very few privileges granted to the position of mayor. One is the power to appoint committees and fill vacancies, subject to the rules of the City Commission. Our mayor is elected to lead. Removing the power to fill vacancies removes one of the key tools of leadership and risks throwing the city into deadlock when important decisions must be made.
Don't handcuff our mayor when critical decisions must be made.
Measure 3-583 — Winner take all — no!
This may be the most radical change to our historic voting system. In 1978, voters already rejected the proposal made in this measure and installed our present position-based system. Why undo it now?
On April 12, the Clackamas Review published an article by former City Commissioner James Nicita, keenly focusing on why this proposed undoing of our electoral system would be a bad idea. I encourage you to read his logic.
Is our City Charter perfect? By no means. Does it need tweaking to clean up some ambiguities? You bet. We need a public review process to consider alternatives and propose moderate solutions to any change in our tried-and-true Oregon City Charter.
William Gifford is an Oregon City resident.
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