Portland Business Alliance president sues to overturn charter reform ballot language

The president of the Portland Business Alliance filed a lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court this morning in an attempt to overturn a charter reform question set to ask voters this November whether they want to overhaul our city’s governance and elections.

The named defendants are City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero and Louise Hansen, the city’s election officer. The two city officials earlier this week refused to remove the ballot measure after the PBA sent them a letter asking them to do so.

The ballot question includes three major reforms: eliminating the commission form of government and instead electing a city administrator to oversee the offices, expanding the size of the City Council to 12 members with three elected per geographic district, and adopting ranked-choice voting .

The ballot question, which will go directly to the ballot in November because it was approved by the once-in-a-decade Charter Commission by a 17-to-3 vote, combines all three major reforms into one question, meaning voters will either have to vote yes.” for the whole package or “no” for the whole package.

But that ballot measure has made some powerful enemies.

One is the Portland Business Alliance, the city’s chamber of commerce, which has a lot of influence at City Hall.

Andrew Hoan, CEO and president of the PBA, is the plaintiff representing the PBA in the lawsuit.

Filed this morning, the lawsuit alleges that the ballot measure, as written by the City Attorney’s Office, violates the single-subject law, which mandates that each ballot measure must present voters with only one topic per measure.

The charter commission and the city attorney’s office said the measure would withstand any legal challenges to it. This is because, they say, there is a unifying principle that unites all three reforms. Earlier this month, Charter Commissioner Becca Uherbelau told WW, “We both need structural change and change to give Portlanders more voice and choice in who leads these structures… They’re not just connected or united. They are interdependent.”

But the lawsuit disagrees with that premise, arguing that the reforms are “not logically connected.”

“Plaintiff is concerned that the combination of good and expected reforms in city government will be defeated on the ballot by the improvised concepts,” the suit says. “Plaintiff wants the Charter Commission to resubmit the same Charter reforms to voters in multiple measures so that Portland voters have the choice to agree to all, none, or some of the Charter reforms.”

The debate over the ballot measure has divided political factions in Portland. Charter commissioners who support the measure say the opposition that’s lining up is disappointing but not surprising, and that people who have always wielded enormous influence at City Hall are fighting against a fairer system. (The opposition strongly disagrees with this analysis.)

The city attorney’s office declined to comment on pending litigation.

Meanwhile, two other PACs are trying to overturn the ballot measure entirely.

One is the Ulysses PAC, formed by Commissioner Mingus Mapps last fall specifically to support charter reform. But at one point, Mapps now opposes the reforms because they are united in one issue.

Similarly, two former staffers for former Mayor Bud Clark and recent City Council candidate Vadim Mozyrski have formed a PAC that will also work to kill the ballot measure.

Building Power for Communities of Color, along with a number of other community groups, launched a PAC in support of the ballot measure.

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