Portland council to discuss fine points of Charter Commission election

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The Portland City Council will discuss the upcoming Charter Commission election in a workshop on Feb. 3.

Mayor Kate Snyder said the workshop will review the ballot design, nomination papers, and the impact of ranked-choice voting on the election, which is scheduled for June 8. Snyder said this is the first time ranked-choice voting will be used in the city when all four at-large districts will have elections.

Snyder had previously said nomination papers are expected to be available in early February.

The Charter Commission was approved by voters last July. Proponents hoped to have an earlier, special election, but the City Council nixed that based on the cost. The July vote, which was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, also missed the window required to distribute nomination papers for an election last November.

The charter review came about after the political group Fair Elections Portland tried to put a proposed charter amendment on the city ballot to install taxpayer funding for elections. The group sued the city after councilors rejected the proposal. That ultimately led to the referendum on creation of the commission, which city residents overwhelmingly supported. 

The Charter Commission theoretically could suggest major changes to the city’s style of government. The last commission created the role of a popularly elected mayor, defining the mayor’s position as leader of the council while giving day-to-day operational power to the city manager.

Following Black Lives Matter protests at the beginning of the summer, there was a call for City Manager Jon Jennings to resign from his position because of city policies that allegedly continued to disenfranchise Black citizens. Several councilors supported Jennings at that time, but the role and powers of the manager are expected to be a focus of the Charter Commission’s deliberations.

Jennings has said he will step down from the job when his recently extended contract ends in July 2022. 

The council has already appointed three members to the upcoming commission: Michael Kebede, Peter Eglinton, and Dory Waxman. City residents will vote to elect the remaining nine members, one from each of the city’s five voting districts and four at-large members.