City attorney defends Portland charter reform in court.
Legal sparring is continuing over the constitutionalist of the Nov. 8 general election ballot measure to change Portland's form of government.
A challenge was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court in July 15 claiming it violates the Oregon Constitution's prohibition against multiple subjects in a single measure.
"Plaintiff is concerned that the coupling of the good and expected reforms to the city's administration will be brought down at the ballot by the improvised concepts. Plaintiff wants the Charter Commission to re-submit the same charter reforms to voters in multiple measures so that Portland's voters have the choice to agree with all, none, or some of the charter reforms," reads the lawsuit filed of Portland Business Alliance President and CEO Andrew Hoan.
The Portland City Attorney's Office responded on July 27 that the prohibition only applies to initiative petitions proposed by voters, not measures submitted by governments, such as the measure submitted by the Portland Charter Commission.
According to the filing, the constitution has two single-subject provisions, but none of them apply.
"The single-subject requirement in Article IV, section 1 applies only to initiative petitions and does not apply to measures referred by local governing bodies like the Charter Commission," the filing said.
"The second single-subject rule is found in Article IV, Section 20, which provides, in relevant part: 'Every Act shall embrace but one subject, and matters properly connected therewith, which subject shall be expressed in the title.' Unlike the first single-subject rule governing initiative petitions, the second single-subject rule contains no language extending the rule to local legislative acts," the filing continued.
Hoan's lawyers have until Aug. 3 to respond. Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Bushong has set a declaratory judgement hearing for Aug. 11. The measure need to be certified for the ballot by Aug. 23.
The commission approved the measure on June 13. The City Attorney's office filed a ballot title on July 8 that reads: "Should city administrator, supervised by mayor, manage Portland with 12 councilors representing four districts making laws and voters ranking candidates?"
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 would increase representation of marginalized communities, allow 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-chosen voting are experimental and could have unintended consequences.
Although it has yet to be decertified for the ballot, campaign committees have already been formed on both sides of the issue.
The measure 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. It is opposed by the Partnership for Common Sense Government, which was founded by two former staff members for the late Mayor Bud Clark, Chuck Duffy and Steven Moskowitz, and charter commission member, administrative law judge and former council candidate Vadim Mozyyrsky. The measure is also opposed by the Ulysses PAC, which was originally formed by Portland City Commission Mingus Mapps to support charter reform.
Hoan's filing can be found here.
Portland's reply can be found here.
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