Portland Charter Review 2021-22

Every ten years, the Portland City Council appoints twenty community volunteers to form a Charter Review Commission.  The Commission’s job is analyzing Portland’s City Charter and recommending improvements. They expect to place reform measures on Portland voters’ ballots in November 2022.

LWVPDX has been following their work and raising our voice about ways this process can strengthen democracy.

Since 1913, Portland has used the commission form of city government, and voters have retained that form of government in eight separate elections — most recently 15 years ago. Will this year’s charter review be the one that succeeds in changing the commission form of government?

Where we are now: Ballot Measure Language Released in May

Starting in February 2022, the Commission released a series of progress reports: one February 2022 progress report, a second progress report and a third report both in March, a fourth report in April, and a fifth report in May.

The final report includes the City Attorney’s Office draft language for the charter amendments.    Sign up now to give testimony about these amendments at four public hearings in May , held from May 10 to May 22.  LWVPDX will provide testimony on the evening of May 12.

Here are the three major changes (proposed amendments) unanimously recommended by the 20-member Charter Commission.

        1. Elect Candidates Using Ranked Choice Voting
        2. Expand City Council to 12 Members, Electing Three Members Each from Four New Geographic
          Districts
        3. City Council Sets Policy; Mayor Elected Citywide Runs Day-to-Day Operations

Learn more about the current progress of the Charter Commission online here.

Where we go from here:  Future Work for the Commission

By June 29, the Charter Commission will vote on the reforms, to send a final slate of proposals for the November 2022 election.

Because of the significant changes these reforms would entail, LWVPDX and our allies will stay busy helping to educate the voting public so they are informed enough to vote.  By early fall, please look for the nonpartisan voter information we will help develop about ranked-choice voting, multi-member districts, and a new form of government.  Volunteers will be needed to help spread the word!

How we got here: Themes of the Charter Commission’s Work

In the early part of the Commission’s work, they focused on two themes: form of government and city council elections.

    • The Form of Government Subcommittee developed recommendations about reforming the commission form of government, revising the roles of Mayor and City Council, changing how bureaus are managed, and deciding whether Portland needs a professional city manager to manage the city bureaus.
    • The Council Elections Subcommittee developed recommendations about the methods and timing of voting in city council elections and the number and constituency of city councilors, including whether councilors should be elected by district or citywide, or both.

On March 31, 2022, the Portland Charter Review Commission held an important meeting that included a vote on the key reforms they will send to voters this fall. After hearing testimony from the public, including testimony from the LWVPDX Board, the Commissioners unanimously advanced a package of proposals to change the city’s charter.  They agreed on three main changes:

      • Use Ranked-Choice Voting to allow voters to rank candidates in order of their preference
      • Expand the city council to a total of 12 members, elected from four new geographic districts with three members representing each district
      • Shift the focus of city council to setting policy, with a mayor elected citywide to run administrative operations with the help of a professional city administrator

These proposals generally align with the reforms suggested by LWVPDX in our testimony shared at the meeting:

      1. Establish city council as a legislative body, not an administrative or executive one.
      2. Institute a city manager.
      3. Increase the number of city councilors to 10-12, plus the mayor.
      4. Retain election of the mayor and auditor on a citywide basis with Ranked-Choice Voting.
      5. Enhance proportional representation by creating multi-member districts and using Ranked-Choice Voting to elect the City Council.

Read our full March 31, 2022, Charter Commission Testimony.

LWVPDX Civic Education on the Charter Commission

The Portland League hosted a panel of key commissioners to discuss their work on February 9, 2022, over Zoom:

    • Julia Meier, the Charter Commission Project Manager
    • Charter Commissioner Candace Avalos
    • Charter Commissioner Amira Streeter
    • Charter Commissioner Melanie Billings-Yun

The Commissioners talked about what brought them to join the Commission (and devote so much of their time to it over the past year). The four panelists also shared their greatest hopes for what could come out of the Charter Review.  It was clear that the future of the reforms they recommend will depend in no small part on groups like the League of Women Voters to educate and engage the public on complicated but critical issues of local governance.

Find the full presentation on our YouTube channel or through our new podcast series.  Review Julia Meier’s slideshow about the Charter Review.

League Advocacy

The League of Women Voters of Portland has been actively following the Commission’s work.

    • President offering testimony to Charter Commission by zoom on June 2021
      LWVPDX president testifies to Charter Review Commission about government transparency

      President Debbie Kaye presented testimony about transparency in June 2021.

    • In October 2021, we used our Election Methods and City Government position statements to advocate for key reforms in council elections and changes to Portland’s form of government.  (The group’s February 2022 progress report reflects several of the changes we urged, such as increasing the size of City Council, considering district-based elections, and shifting City Council positions into legislative roles.)
    • In March 2022, we provided testimony in support of the general direction the Commission was headed.  We emphasized the priorities of their Areas of Agreement that aligned with our 2020 City Government position statement.

Our study and consensus position about City Government guide our involvement in the Charter Commission’s work. In the fall of 2019, the League of Women Voters of Portland Education Fund published its report on a 2-year study of Portland’s City Government. (The study report is posted here.) Using this study and a panel discussion of the results for background, League members discussed the study and answered  “consensus questions.” Members’ answers led to an updated City Government advocacy position, which the Board approved in January 2020.

Here is an excerpt from our position:

“The highest priorities for change are to improve citizen representation by increasing the number of commissioners, to institute a city manager, and to establish the city council as a legislative or policy-setting body. We also support electing some or all city councilors by district.”

Read the full City Government position here.

The LWVPDX 2020 position on Portland City Government.