Portland charter reform campaigns heat up
The fight over changing Portland's form of government heated up Wednesday with two political action committees announcing their opposition to key provisions of the measure proposed by the citizen Charter Commission.
The measure is headed to the Nov. 8 general election ballot. It is supported by Portlanders for Charter Reform, a political action committee supported by Building Power for Communities of Color, the political engagement arm of the nonprofit Coalition of Communities of Color.
But a new and an existing political action committee issued statements opposing changes to the election process in the measure on June 6. Both said electing multiple council members by ranged choice voting in new geographic districts — as proposed by the measure — is experimental, confusing and costly. The committees support centralizing oversight of city bureaus under a professional manager, as the measure also proposes, and worry voters will defeat the package because of the election process changes.
The new committee is the Partnership for Common Sense Government. In its statement, co-founder Chuck Duffy said, "Should the measure, as proposed, be certified for the ballot, the Partnership for Common Sense Government would be opposed and lead a campaign to urge a NO vote on the measure. We agree our present government needs serious reform, but the present proposal is deeply flawed. After the measure is defeated, we will work with the Council and other groups to put a sensible measure on the ballot soon."
Duffy is a Portland lawyer who worked for former Mayor Bud Clark. Other founders include lawyer, rabbi and former Clark staffer Steven Moskowitz, and charter commission member, administrative law judge and former council candidate Vadim Mozyyrsky.
The other committee is the Ulysses PAC, which was originally formed by Portland City Commission Mingus Mapps to support charter reform. His statement said the committee will now oppose the measure because of proposed election changes.
"We know that many voters believe that the Charter Commission proposal represents a once in a 10 year chance to make a significant change in city government. However, if the Charter Commission proposal is turned down in November, as we think-it should be, Commissioner Mapps is committed to leading a City Council effort to submit an alternative proposal in 2023 based upon common sense, equity, consensus, and transparency. The ultimate goal of Ulysses PAC is to strongly support Charter Reform for Portland," said the statement.
In response, Building Power for Communities of Color released the following statement:
"The Charter Commission has advanced a comprehensive measure for much-needed reform to the November ballot. The current system simply isn't working for Portlanders. Now, we have a chance to adopt a real solution that will bring more voices into our local democracy by allowing voters to rank candidates, establishing district representation, and creating a more effective and functional government with a city administrator. This is a comprehensive ballot measure that will increase accountability, responsiveness, and inclusiveness in our city government. We're disappointed that a handful of discontented insiders have chosen to oppose this measure and are working to confuse voters about this measure. They are simply seeking to advance their political interests by maintaining the status quo. Polling consistently shows a majority of voters want the entirety of this measure. The truth is that Portlanders want real, meaningful change, and this November, we have the chance to do that."
Portlanders for Charter Reform and the Partnership for Common Sense Government have not had to file reports with the Oregon Secretary of State's Office because the measure has not been yet been certified. The Ulysses PAC currently reports nearly $22,000 on hand.
Proposed charter changes
Portland currently is the only major city in the country where the City Council is elected citywide and its members both set policies and oversee bureaus assigned to them by the mayor without a professional manager. Changes proposed by the Charter Commission would:
• Create a City Council that focuses on setting policy and a mayor elected citywide to run the city's day-to-day operations, with the help of a professional city administrator. The mayor could only vote to break a tie and would not have veto power.
• Expand the council from four to 12 commissioners with three members elected in four newly created geographic districts.
• Allow voters to rank candidates in order of their preference, with the top three candidates in each district winning without runoff elections.
Supporters say the changes will increase representation of marginalized communities, allow the council members to focus on important policy issues, and eliminate the "silos" among bureaus that have hampered cooperation.
Critics say the multi-member districts with rank-choice voting are experimental and could have unintended consequence.
Steps to come
According to the Portland Elections Office, these steps need to be completed before the measure qualifies for the ballot:
• The City Attorney's Office must draft a ballot title and explanatory statement and files these items with the City Elections Office.
• The City Elections Office must publish a notice of ballot title challenge period in the local newspaper.
• Voters wishing to challenge the drafted ballot title must file a petition with the court within seven business days from the date the ballot title was filed by the city attorney with the City Elections Office.
• If a voter files a ballot title challenge with the court, they must notify the City Elections Office of the challenge within one business day of filing with the court.
• Once the ballot title challenge process has been completed and any ballot title issues resolved, the City Elections Office may file the Notice of Measure Election form with the County Elections Office at any time before the 5 p.m. Sept. 8, 2022, deadline.
• After the measure is referred to the ballot, any person may file with an argument in favor or opposition to the measure County Elections Office to be included in the voters' pamphlet. The deadline to file an argument for the voters' pamphlet is Sept. 12.
A previous Portland Tribune story on the issue can be found here.
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