Do the majority of Portland voters really support a single measure for overhauling city governments?

PMG FILE PHOTO - Big changes could be coming to Portland City Hall.

Vadim Mozyrsky has resigned from the Portland Charter Commission over what he believes is critical public polling information withheld from the commission and City Council.

The appointed 20-member commission has proposed a single citywide reform measure to the Nov. 8 general election ballot. But Willamette Week reported on Aug. 3 that a poll question not presented to the commission and council. It showed the overwhelming majority of voters — 72% — preferred the proposal submitted as separate measures.

"The groups most in favor of separate proposals are young women, voters in North Portland, and lower-income voters," pollsters wrote.

"That was the last straw. I had repeatedly asked about submitted separate measures but had been told more voters wanted them submitted as one. Now it turns out most voters, including communities of colors, wanted them submitted separately," said Mozyrsky, an administrative law judge and unsuccessful candidate for the City Council.

It is hard to understand how that happened. One problem is that, although the commission is a public body appointed by the council, it did not contract for one or more city-funded polls. Instead, three polls were undertaken by different advocacy organizations. Complete results for the one that showed most voters preferred separate measures were only uncovered by Willamette Week for its Aug. 3 story.

That poll was conducted by the good government advocacy organization North Star Civic Foundation with the involvement of the Portland Business Alliance, Oregon Smart Growth, the Metropolitan Association of Realtors, and the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland.

In the Willamette Week story, Caitlin Baggott Davis, executive director of North Star, said the omission was not intentional. Instead, she said her group wanted to focus on the core takeaways from the poll so it could message appropriately when promoting charter reform: "Our focus in the March poll was to understand if voters feel represented by Portland city government, and if they feel that services are being provided well. They don't. We focused the presentation on that."

But in fact, PBA President and CEO Andrew Hoan is challenging the single measure in Multnomah County Circuit Courts on the grounds that it violates Oregon Constitutional restrictions against multiple subjects in a single ballot measure.

"Many people who testified before the commission said they wanted separate measures, but we kept being told that was not what more voters wanted," Mozyrsky said.

Mozyrsky was one of three commissioners who voters against the single measure proposal and is part of a political action committee who oppose it. But he did not resign from the commission until the Willamette Week story was published.

Reform measure complicated

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.

The Charter Commission referred the measure to the Nov. 8 ballot on June 13. The city attorney filed a ballot title that said, "Should city administrator, supervised by mayor, manage Portland with 12 councilors representing four districts making laws and voters ranking candidates?"

Hoan's challenge was filed July 15. The Portland City Attorney's Office responded on July 27 that the prohibition against single-subject measure only applies to initiative petitions proposed by voters, not measures submitted by governments, such as the measure charter commission.

Court filings are still underway. Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Bushong has set a declaratory judgement hearing for Aug. 11. The measure needs to be certified for the ballot by Aug. 23.

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 Mozyyrsky and two former staff members for the late Mayor Bud Clark, Chuck Duffy and Steven Moskowitz. The measure is also opposed by the Ulysses PAC, which was originally formed by Portland City Commission Mingus Mapps to support charter reform.

A previous Portland Tribune story can be found here.

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