If you follow the Portland Charter Commission, you may be asking yourself: “What problem are they trying to solve?”
Is it a democracy problem, meaning the city manager undercuts popularly elected majorities? The City Council is democratically elected and the manager reports to the council, not the other way around. The City Council gave us the Charter Commission review when it wasn’t obligated to.
Is it a “who’s in charge here, anyway?” problem? Mayors Michael Brennan and Kate Snyder haven’t had the turf issues with the city manager that former Mayor Ethan Strimling had.
Finally, is the problem that the city manager has too much power? Commissioner Marpheen Chan stated that “nobody wants power concentrated in one person.” It isn’t. The City Council approves manager decisions and if the manager falls out of favor, the manager goes. And city managers don’t bring a cult of personality to the job the way some mayors like Richard Daley (Chicago), Marion Barry (Washington, D.C.), and Rob Ford (Toronto) did.
The commission’s governing proposals range from a “strong mayor” model advanced by Commissioner Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef to models that aim for an ambiguous compromise. Sheikh-Yousef’s proposal was last minute, lacked detail, and was compromised by her social media outbursts. It’s a big-city model we don’t need. And with the “problem” unclear, why is it time to find a solution?