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A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge must decide whether the No. 8 Charter Commission measure is legal.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF PORTLND - The Portland Charter Commission has proposed a measure for the Nov. 8 general election ballot.An undisclosed poll question took center stage in the last legal filings in the lawsuit over the legality of the Portland charter reforms proposed for the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

The central issue in the legal challenge filed with the Multnomah County Circuit Court is whether the single measure proposed by the city-sanctioned Charter Commission violates the Oregon Constitution's restrictions against multiple subjects within a single measure going to voters.

The City Attorney's Office argues the restriction only applies to citizen initiatives. But just before final briefs were due, Willamette Week reported that a poll submitted to the commission and City Council in support of the measure withheld the most important result — that 72% of voters favor multiple questions on the extensive changes proposed by the commission.

The Aug. 3 revelation prompted lawyers for Portland Business Alliance President and CEO Andrew Hoan to file a response that argues voters should not be forced to choose between proposals that wants and do not want in a single measure.

"The only path forward to protect voter rights under the single-subject protection, give voters a real choice, and provide the best chance of passing needed reforms this November is to allow the City to split the Commission's proposed ballot measure reforms into multiple single-subject ballot measures—as 72% of Portland voters want," the filing said.

News of the undisclosed results prompted commissioner member Vadim Mozyrsky to resign.

"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 who opposes the proposed measure.

Measure supporters argue there was no attempt to deceive anyone and the question was asked before the single-subject issue became prominent. The poll was commissioned the 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 craft a 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."

Boggott Davis and Jenny Lee, managing director of Building Power for Communities of Color, filed a friend of the court brief opposing the lawsuit on Aug. 3. They will be directors of the campaign to pass the measure if Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Bushong does not rule it off the ballot.

"If Plaintiff opposes the outcome of accountability, increased democratic participation and stronger representation for all Portlanders, he should say so, rather than hiding behind a misleading and weak legal theory about protecting 'voter choice,'" said the filing, which did not mention the Willamette Week story.

A declaratory judgement hearing is set for Thursday, Aug. 11.

Reform measure complicated

Portland currently is the only major city in the country in which 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 critics include Portland City Commissioner Mingus Mapps. He has promised to refer a series of single-subject chapter reform measures to the ballot to replace the current one of Bushong rules it violates the constitution.

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. The measure needs to be certified for the ballot by Aug. 23.


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