PORTLAND, Ore. — After months of public debate, Portland voters appear to have decided to overhaul the city's form of government. The Oregonian projects Measure 26-228, the charter reform package, to pass with updated tallies Wednesday morning showing 56% voting Yes and 44% voting No.
Portland city officials held a press conference Wednesday afternoon to discuss next steps and how the transition will play out.
The package scraps Portland's oft-maligned commission form of government in which the mayor and the four city commissioners individually control city bureaus while also collectively serving as the city council.
It centralizes administrative power under a professional city manager overseen by the mayor and leave the council in charge of policy. It will expand the council to 12 members and divide the city into four geographic districts, each of which would elect three councilors using ranked-choice voting.
Appetite for change
The package was developed by the Charter Commission, a 20-member citizen volunteer group that, under the terms of the city's current charter, must be convened at least once every 10 years to review the city's government structure and present recommended changes to voters.
Portlanders have roundly rejected major charter overhauls in the past, but there's reason to believe things could be different this time. Portland has been struggling for years with multiple mounting crises including gun violence and housing, and public frustration with the city's government is unusually palpable.
Even officials like Mayor Ted Wheeler have publicly blamed the commission form of government for contributing to the city's woes, arguing that it's antiquated and hamstrings the city by keeping its bureaus siloed from one another.
The calls for some sort of change have become near-universal, but the specific reform package that the charter review commission unveiled in March has been more controversial, particularly among Portland's elected officials.
Wheeler quickly objected to the proposal's lack of a mayoral veto, and City Commissioner Mingus Mapps objected to the charter commission's decision to send the entire slate of reforms to voters as a single ballot measure.
Mapps and Vadim Mozyrsky, one of three charter commission members who voted against adopting the final package, have also both objected to the combination of ranked choice voting and multi-member districts. They've both become prominent public opponents the package.
Other charter commission members and reform activists have pushed back on the criticism, arguing that the proposed reforms are all based on what Portlanders told the charter commission they wanted, and that they had to be packaged as a single proposal because they're interdependent.
What happens next?
The most urgent transition task will be the appointment of a districting commission that will be tasked with dividing the city into four geographic districts of equal population, according to Portland's chief administrative officer Michael Jordan, and the city will immediately start working on recruiting volunteers.
The members would be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the existing city council. The districting process has to be finished ahead of the 2024 election, when the first city councilors would be elected under the new system.
"We'll be getting on that right away should the ballot measure ultimately pass," Jordan said.
The existing city council format would remain in place for the time being, with the first elections under the new system held in 2024. Existing council terms would not carry over; city commissioners elected in 2022 would need to run again in 2024 to remain on the council.