The Portland Business Alliance will challenge the city’s charter change ballot title

The Portland Business Alliance wants the government’s Nov. 8 reform proposal split into separate measures.

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PORTLAND, OREGON. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The Portland Business Alliance will challenge the title of the Nov. 8 general election measure to reform city government in Multnomah County Circuit Court next week.

The city’s chamber of commerce board has not taken a position on all of the changes proposed by the 20-member charter commission. But the organization believes that including everyone in one measure violates the legal prohibition against multiple entities in one measure.

The proposal would change many sections of the charter dealing with elections, city office management and more. The city attorney’s office filed a ballot title Thursday, July 8, that read: “Should a mayor-controlled city administrator run Portland with twelve councilors representing four wards making laws and voters ranking candidates?”

The board will take action on any measure or measures approved for a vote following the court’s decision. Each voter has until July 15 to challenge the title in court.

Portland elections officials previously disqualified a similar proposed initiative — 2020-PDX01 — because it included too many topics.

“2020-PDX01 only meets the single-subject analytical framework because it seeks to amend multiple provisions of the City Charter and not all of the amendments relate to a single unifying purpose. For example, the activity of the City Council is not logically related to a change in the voting system for all elected officials of the city,” said the decision of the City Election Office on December 16, 2020.

The city attorney’s office said the single-topic requirement applies only to initiative petitions in a March 2 memo to the commission. But the opinion acknowledged that the council has historically limited measures targeting Portland voters to individual entities to avoid legal challenges.

Currently, Portland is the only major city in the country where the City Council is elected citywide and its members set policies and oversee offices assigned to them by the mayor without a professional manager. The changes proposed by the Charter Commission would:

• Establish a City Council that focuses on setting policy and a mayor elected by the entire city to manage the day-to-day operations of the city, with the help of a professional city administrator. The mayor could only vote to break a tie and had no veto power.

• Expand the board 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 a runoff.

Supporters say the changes will increase representation of marginalized communities, allow council members to focus on important policy issues and eliminate “silos” among bureaus that hinder collaboration.

Critics say multi-seat ranked-choice districts are experimental and could have unintended consequences.

Although it has not yet been certified for voting, campaign committees have already been formed on both sides of the issue.

The measure is backed by Portlanders for Charter Reform, a political action committee backed by Building Power for Communities of Color, the political engagement arm of the nonprofit Coalition of Communities of Color.

“The Charter Commission has proposed a comprehensive measure of much-needed reform before the November vote. The current system is simply not working for Portland residents. Now we have a chance to pass a real solution that will bring more voices to our local democracy by allowing voters to rank candidates, establishing district representation, and creating a more efficient and functional government with a city manager. This is a comprehensive ballot measure that will increase accountability, responsiveness and inclusion in our city government,” said Building Power for Communities of Color.

The measure is opposed by the Partnership for Common Sense government. It was founded by two former employees of the late Mayor Bud Clark, Chuck Duffy and Stephen Moskowitz, and Charter Commission member, administrative law judge and former council candidate Vadim Mozyrski.

“If the measure as proposed is certified for a vote, the Common Sense Partnership government will oppose and campaign to push for a NO vote on the measure. We agree that our current government needs serious reform, but the current proposal is deeply flawed. Once the measure is defeated, we will work with the Council and other groups to put a common sense measure on the ballot soon,” Duffy said.

It is also opposed by the Ulysses PAC, which was originally formed by Portland City Commission Mingus Mapps to support charter reform.

“We know that many voters believe that the Charter Commission’s proposal represents a once-in-10-year chance to make a significant change in city government.” However, if the Charter Commission’s proposal is rejected in November, as we believe it should be, Commissioner Mapps is committed to leading the City Council’s efforts to present an alternative proposal in 2023 based on common sense, fairness, consensus and transparency . Ulysses PAC’s ultimate goal is to strongly support charter reform for Portland,” the committee said.

In response to the opposition, Building Power for Communities of Color said, “We are disappointed that a handful of disgruntled insiders have chosen to oppose this measure and are working to confuse voters about this measure. They simply seek to advance their political interests by maintaining the status quo. Polls consistently show that a majority of voters want the measure in its entirety. The truth is, Portlanders want real, meaningful change, and this November we have the chance to make it happen.”

A previous Portland Tribune story on the matter can be found here.

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