Portland’s all-or-nothing city charter ballot measure may add up to no reforms at all
By Taylor Marks
Too much, all at once.
Portland’s city charter is long overdue for some rewrites. Few people deny that. Last month, the city’s Charter Review Commission announced its proposal to overhaul the city’s charter, with the reforms going to the voters on the November ballot.
A central part of the reforms is shifting Portland to a “City Manager” form of government. But, the proposed changes do much more than just that. Stuffed into the ballot measure is also a reformation of the City Council into a 12-member body, which would be divided among four new geographic districts. Also new to the charter is the imposition of a ranked-choice voting system to elect commissioners and the mayor.
To be clear, Portland’s government badly needs reforms. The commission system does not seem to be adequately addressing Portlanders’ concerns. Unfortunately, the Charter Review Commission has chosen to jam other tangentially related reforms onto the ballot, forcing Portlanders to either vote for all of the changes, or for none of them. This has raised concerns even from those who support charter reform efforts, such as City Commissioner Mingus Mapps.
Instead, the Commission should have separated these reforms into separate ballot measures. Putting them all together forces Portland’s voters to make an all-or-nothing choice, which may very well result in no meaningful changes being made at all.
Taylor Marks is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.