Judge rewrites Portland Water Bureau ballot measure title
A Multnomah County Court has rewritten the ballot title of the measure to allow the Portland City Council to spend Portland Water Bureau ratepayer funds on projects not directly related to its primary mission of providing water.
The City Council referred the measure to the Nov. 3 general election ballot after a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge ruled that the city charter requires ratepayer fund spending must be reasonably related to the primary mission of the bureau. In a case brought by ratepayer advocates, Judge Stephen Bushong ruled that spending ratepayer funds on projects such as parks at water tanks were not allowed.
The ballot title originally was written by the City Attorney's Office. It was challenged by the same ratepayer advocates as violating state election laws by not clearly identifying the purpose of the measure. For example, the original caption did not mention spending ratepayer funds. Instead, it said, "Amends Charter: Authorizes incidental public use, lands outside Bull Run," referring to the watershed that is the primary source of water in the Portland region.
On Sept. 1, Multnomah Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Souede rewrote the title to make it clear the measure involves spending ratepayer funds. For example, his new caption said, "Amends Charter: Authorizes new Water Fund spending; addresses land use."
Attorney John DiLorenzo, who represented the ratepayer advocates, said, "The city was unwilling to let voters know that this is all about spending from the water fund to support its pet projects. Now they will know right up front."
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is in charge of the water bureau and sponsored the measure, said she was disappointed by the change but still hopes the measure passes.
"The revised language is not as accurate as the city's proposed version in describing what the measure will do, the required public process before Water Funds are spent on incidental uses, and potential impacts on utility rates," Fritz said. "I am hoping that when voters understand what the binding city policy adopted unanimously by the council requires if the measure passes, they will vote for it in November. The process includes requiring the City Council to adopt code specifying allowed uses of Water Bureau properties, rather than individual commissioners making that choice as has happened in the past."
Readers can find the judge's order and new title here.
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