Commissioner Mingus Mapps can't wait for the Portland Charter Commission to refer a measure to the ballot changing the city's form of government.
In fact, Mapps formed a political action committee to support the measure last December, almost two years before the expected November 2022 vote.
"There's nothing more important we can do than reform Portland's form of government," the first-term commissioner told the Portland Tribune. "I said that when I ran for the City Council and I believe it more than ever after 10 months on the job."
Mapps admits he cannot tell the independent, council-appointed 20-member commission what changes they should refer to the ballot. He hopes it will include transferring supervision of all bureaus from council members to a professional city manager and electing commissioners by geographic zones.
"Anything would be an improvement," said Mapps, who believes the current system creates silos that prevent bureaus from working together effectively.
The name of the committee is the Ulysses PAC, which is Mapps' middle name. Because it is not a candidate committee, it does not have to abide by the $508 contribution limit approved by Portland voters. All contributions must be reported, however, and it cannot qualify for public matching funds under the city's Open & Accountable Election program.
Mapps said the committee will not contribute to any other campaign. It had reported raising just under $16,000 late last week. The largest contribution was $2,500 from Michael Gibbons, owner of the Papa Haydn restaurants in Northwest Portland and Sellwood.
Mapps formed his committee so early because he worries there will not be enough time to create an effective campaign from scratch after the commission finalizes its proposal. The commission has scheduled four virtual listening sessions on Portland's form of government and council elections before the end of the year, beginning early next month. But the commission is not scheduled to finish its work until next summer. That will be just months before the general election where Portland voters are expected to decide its fate.
"Having run for office, I can tell you that is not enough time if you haven't laid the groundwork. That's especially true if there's any organized opposition. It's a lot easier to defeat a ballot measure than pass it," Mapps said.
Reform failed in past
It's easy to believe that Portlander are ready to change their form of government from the growing number of elected officials, including Mayor Ted Wheeler, and civic organizations like the City Club of Portland calling for reform. But Portland voters have rejected such changes eight times over the last 94 years. Most recently, at the May 2007 primary election, they rejected a hotly contested measure that would have created a chief administrative officer to oversee all bureaus. It was overwhelmingly defeated 76% to 24%.
Measure 26-91 had been crafted by a citizen commission championed by then-Mayor Tom Potter and appointed by the council, which referred it to the ballot on a split vote. Support and opposition fractured along traditional Portland lines. Business interests supported the measure, while public employee and other unions opposed it. Many liberals and community activists also came out against it, including former Mayor Bud Clark, environmentalists Mike Houck and Bob Sallinger, and former Oregon legislator Jo Ann Bowman, who is now Portland commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
The fight was expensive for the time. The Citizens to Reform City Hall PAC that supported the measure raised over $247,000 in cash and in-kind contributions. The two committees that opposed the measure raised more than $232,000. They were Portlanders for Accountability and the Committee for Accountable City Government.
The City Club of Portland prepared a report for its members that summarized the arguments on both sides. It said supporters argued the then-existing (and current) form of government is antiquated, encourages council members to protect their bureaus at the expense of citywide initiatives, creates turf battles between bureaus that reduce coordination and efficiency, confuses the public about who is in charge, and exposes bureau heads to politics.
The report found the opponents argued Portland is a successful city whose government doesn't need to be changed, that it would concentrate too much power in the hands of the mayor, that it would reduce accountability and public involvement by insulating the bureaus from the council members, and that it would not guarantee improved efficiency.
Three other measures also were proposed by the commissioner and referred to the ballot by the council. Two were defeated. One would have reformed the public employee system and the other would have given the city auditor more authority to audit the Portland Development Commission.
The only one approved by voters is the reason Portlanders are expected to vote on a new charter reform measure next year: It requires the council to appoint a charter commission at least every 10 years with the authority to refer measures directly to the ballot. That measure was approved by 53% to 47%.
Two members of the commission will speak online to the City of Club of Portland at noon on Thursday, Oct. 28. Registration is free at the organization's website at www.pdxcityclub.org.
How to participate
The Portland Charter Commission has scheduled four virtual listening sessions on changing the city's form of government and City Council elections before the end of the year.
Form of government meeting times:
• Monday, Nov. 1, 6-8 p.m.
• Tuesday, Nov. 30, 6-8 p.m.
• Thursday, Nov. 4, 6-8 p.m.
• Thursday, Dec. 2, 6-8 p.m.
Public comment also will be accepted by the commission at two general hearings before the end of the year:
• Thursday, Oct. 26, 6-8 p.m..
• Monday, Dec. 13, 6-8 p.m.
To learn more and participate, visit the commission's website at www.portland.gov/omf/charter-review-commission.
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