Portland Charter Commission proposals to get final council hearing

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Residents will have probably their last chance for input on the Charter Commission’s various recommendations at a Sept. 1 Portland City Council meeting.

The eight proposals are scheduled for a public hearing and likely council vote on Thursday in a special meeting.

Seal of the city of portlandCouncilors can put the measures on the November referendum ballot, and can revise the summaries of the recommendations. If the proposals are too long for the ballot, councilors can also write their own summaries of the eight questions.

Unlike other referendum proposals, however, the council cannot place competing measures on the ballot or adopt the proposals outright.

After a year of frequent full commission meetings, several weekly committee meetings, workshops, public hearings, debates, disagreements, spats, competing proposals, and minority reports, the commission turned in its final report in July. Earlier this month, the 12 commissioners were officially relieved of their titles and were no longer elected officials.

The biggest question that voters will face is a plan to overhaul the separation of power in City Hall by creating a more powerful executive mayor who will assume many of the duties now held by the city manager. The manager’s position would be reduced to a city administrator role.

The new mayor would also face new checks and balances from the council, which would gain the ability to fire the mayor for misconduct or negligence and be able to censure the mayor. Citizens and councilors could also initiate recall elections.

Eventually, the mayoral election would coincide with presidential elections, although the next mayoral election is in 2023, while the presidential election is in 2024. To overcome this, the commission proposed a one-time, five-year term beginning in 2023. After that, the mayor’s term would revert to the proposed four-year cycle beginning in 2028.

The proposal would also increase the mayor’s salary to twice the area median income, or about $120,000. It would also increase councilors’ pay to 10 percent of what the mayor earns, or around $12,000, up from the roughly $6,800 stipends they currently receive.

Other elements of the proposals include:

• A new City Charter preamble and acknowledgment that the city occupies unceded Native American land.

• Greater access to city staff for the mayor and other elected officials.

• Requiring the City Council to create an ordinance on participatory budgeting for a portion of the city’s budget.

• Creating a seven-member Ethics Commission that will provide advisory judgments on ethics violations for elected and appointed officials. It also calls for the council to adopt a code of ethics based on recommendations from the Ethics Commission.

• Revamping the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee as a funded, independent Police Oversight Board with more authority.

• Increasing the size of the City Council from nine to 12 members with nine districts, and eliminating at-large School Board seats in favor of nine district seats.

• Adopting a Clean Elections program to provide campaign funds to participating candidates.

• Switching to proportional ranked-choice voting when several candidates are competing for more than a single city office.

• Changing how vacancies are filled on the council and School Board when an election is scheduled within six months, resulting in each body nominating replacements to complete unexpired terms.

• Giving the School Board autonomy over the School Department budget, in consultation with a joint City Council and School Board committee on budget guidance.

• A mandate for the mayor, superintendent of schools, and others to be involved in creating the five-year Capital Improvement Plan and the city budget.

• Codifying the Peaks Island Council as an advisory body to the City Council.

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