Portland Charter Commission prepares final report

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With just two meetings left before concluding their work, the Portland Charter Commission has finalized its proposal for changes in the city’s governance structure that will create an executive mayor and add several City Council checks on the mayor’s powers. 

The commission’s full slate of proposals will go to voters in November. 

Portland City Hall
Portland City Hall

The proposal for an executive mayor with a more active role in budgeting and who is no longer a voting member of the City Council also reduces the authority of the city manager, who would be called Portland’s chief operating officer.

The council would gain the ability to fire the mayor for misconduct or negligence, or to censure the mayor for cause, and citizens or the council would be able to call for a recall election.

The final proposal also eliminates the creation of an executive committee, which would have included the mayor and two councilors, with the mayor as a voting member despite not voting on the council. The full purpose of the executive committee was never fully explained, other than being involved in the nomination of department heads.

The proposal approved on June 22 calls for a hiring process where the city advertises for the chief operating officer and department heads, and the mayor would send their nominations to the council for approval. 

This governance proposal evolved from several versions and proposed amendments to the initial proposal from the Governance Committee, which did not remove the mayor from the council, and from suggestions that the city manager was too powerful for someone who was not elected.

It also tweaks an earlier proposal to align mayoral elections with presidential elections. The next mayoral election is in 2023, and initially, commissioners proposed an election for a one-year term and then another election in 2024. They agreed instead to a once-only five-year term for the mayor who is elected in 2023, before beginning four-year terms in 2028.

The proposal would also increase the salary of the mayor to twice the area median income, or about $120,000. The mayor currently makes more than $90,000, which is 150 percent of the average. It also increases the pay of city councilors to 10 percent of what the mayor earns, or around $12,000, up from the current stipend of roughly $6,800.

The commission’s final meetings are on June 30, where they will take up two tabled amendments that still require sign-offs from an attorney, and on July 6 to approve the final report, which is due July 11.

Other items in the final report will include:

  • A new City Charter preamble and acknowledgment that Portland is on unceded Native American land.
  • A new policy to promote access to city staff by the mayor and other elected officials.
  • A proposal requiring the council to set up an ordinance on participatory budgeting for a portion of the city’s budget.
  • The creation of a seven-member Ethics Commission to provide advisory judgments on ethics violations for elected and appointed members of city government, and the adoption of a code of ethics by the council based on recommendations from the Ethics Commission.
  • Overhauling the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee as a funded, independent Police Oversight Board with greater authority.
  • Increasing the size of the City Council to 12, with nine district councilors and three at-large members, and changing the School Board makeup to be nine district representatives.
  • A Clean Elections program to provide public campaign funds to candidates who agree to abide by specific campaign finance rules and restrictions.
  • A switch to proportional ranked-choice voting when multiple candidates are running for several seats in an election.
  • Changing how vacancies are filled on the council and School Board when an election will occur within six months, such that each body will nominate a replacement to serve the remainder of the term.
  • Giving the School Board autonomy over the School Department budget, in consultation with a joint City Council-School Board budget guidance committee. Attorneys for the commission and the School Board, however, disagree on the legality of this proposal.
  • A mandate for the involvement of the mayor, superintendent of schools, and others in the creation of the five-year Capital Improvement Plan and the annual city budget.
  • Codification of the Peaks Island Council as an advisory body to the City Council.

Other issues still remaining for commissioners are a proposal for universal resident voting, which would allow non-U.S. citizens to vote in municipal elections, and a prohibition on foreign contributions to ballot question campaigns.

Both proposals still lack signoffs by the commission’s attorneys.