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Portland mayor says the new groupings will ease the transition to changes approved by voters on Nov. 8.

COURTESY PHOTO: MACGREGOR CAMPBELL / OPB - Portland City Hall, as seen in September 2022.

Mayor Ted Wheeler will reassign Portland bureaus to City Council members by "service areas" in January to support the transition to a professional manager approved by voters at the Nov. 8 election.

"In January, I will start knocking down the dysfunctional siloed bureaus that are a plague of our outdated commission form of city government," Wheeler said when he announced the pending reshuffling the day after the election. It is just one of several major changes Portland government will undergo over the next two year.

Under Portland's current form of government, the mayor assigns oversight of city bureaus to all council members. In his announcement, Wheeler identified the upcoming 2023 groupings:

• Community Safety: Portland Police Bureau, Portland Fire & Rescue, Bureau of Emergency Communications, Bureau of Emergency Management.

• Economic Development: Portland Housing Bureau, Joint Office of Homeless Services, Bureau of Development Services (permitting processes), Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (including the Portland Clean Energy Fund), Prosper Portland.

• Utilities: Water Bureau, Bureau of Environmental Services, Portland Bureau of Transportation.

• Administration: Office of Management and Finance, Budget Office, Office of Government Relations.

• Community Services: Office of Civic & Community Life, Open and Accountable Elections, Portland Parks & Recreation, Office of Equity and Human Rights.

Wheeler did not announce which councilors would be assigned to which clusters. Traditionally, Portland mayors have overseen the police bureau.

Gonzalez replaces Hardesty on Jan. 1

The other big change on the council in January is the replacement of incumbentJo Ann Hardesty by lawyer and businessman Rene Gonzalez. He defeated Hardesty at the election.

Hardesty is a longtime civil rights activist who led the council's efforts to reform the Portland Police Bureau during the lengthy social justice protests in 2020. Gonzalez ran on a platform of restoring order and eliminating unsanctioned homeless camping. He won with majorities on the city's east and west sides.

But Gonzalez will only serve two years instead of the usual four before having to seek reelection. Portland voters also passed comprehensive City Charter changes that will elect an entirely new 12-member council in November 2024.

"I will do everything I can within the next two years to work with Mayor Wheeler and the rest of the council to address the issues that confront Portland, including crime and homelessness," Gonzalez told the Portland Tribune. He is opening a transition office with two staffers this week.

Hardesty is now the third incumbent commissioner in a row to be defeated in a runoff election, following Steve Novick in 2016 and Chloe Eudaly in 2020. Mayor Ted Wheeler was reelected with less than 50% of the vote at a 2020 runoff election.

Gonzalez and Hardesty have so far declined to say whether they would run for the council in 2024.

Charter reforms being enacted

City officials now are rushing to enact all the changes in Measure 26-228, which was referred to the ballot by the 20-member citizen Charter Commission. Last week, they discussed asking the council to approve $4 million to $6 million to fund the first phases. The reforms are intended to make the council more representative and efficient.

The funding will support a 13-member Independent District Commission that will divide the city into four equal geographic districts. Voters in each district will send three members each to the council. The districts' boundaries must be approved by September 2023. The councilors will be elected by a form of ranked-choice voting. The commission is expected to be authorized by the council on Thursday, Nov. 17.

A 15-member Transition Advisory Commission also will be appointed to advise the council on such questions as the locations of the offices for the new council members, the size of their staffs, and where the full council — which takes office in January 2025 — will meet.

Currently, City Hall has offices for only the existing four City Council members and the mayor, and there is room for five chairs on the dais in the City Council chambers.

Under the new form of government, the mayor will be elected citywide to oversee city government with the assistance of a professional manager who will direct all bureau. The mayor will only vote to break a tie.

A five-member salary commission also will be appointed to set the salaries for the commissioners, mayor and city auditor.

Ongoing cost estimates for all the changes range from $900,000 to $8.7 million per year, depending on the upcoming decisions made by the council and salary commission.

More information on the charter reform process — including how to apply to serve on the commissions — is available at www.portland.gov/transition.


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