PORTLAND, Ore. — When Portland's charter commission approved a proposed overhaul of the city's government earlier this year, the group did so by a large enough margin to send the package straight to the November ballot, meaning the Portland City Council didn't get a chance to vote on the proposal.
If it had, it appears the vote might not have gone well for the package, at least in its current form.
Commissioner Dan Ryan told KGW on Thursday that, as a regular voter in November, he plans to vote "No" on the package.
"I think we're going from the most antiquated form of government to kind of an experiment," he said.
The news comes after Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Mingus Mapps both expressed serious reservations about the package earlier this year.
For those keeping count, that's three of the council's five members now on record with very lukewarm reactions to the proposal.
The reform package would expand the city council to 12 members elected using ranked choice voting from four geographic districts — three from each district — and it would remove the mayor from the council except as a tiebreaker vote.
The mayor would hire a city manager to run the city's bureaus, and the council would shift to a purely policy-setting role, in contrast to the current system where the mayor and commissioners each directly oversee multiple bureaus.
Ryan said that although he supports the idea of a city manager and the use of geographic districts to elect council members, he concluded that "we don't need a weaker mayor," and the mayor should still be on the council.
He said he heard a lot of voter enthusiasm for charter reform earlier this year, but the enthusiasm dipped once the package was released.
"The one thing I kept hearing over and over and over again was, 'Going from five to 13 politicians is not my idea of reform.' And so I think that's part of it," he said. "I think we need geographic representation. I think maybe a number like six or seven would be good, and I'm not sure if I could ever get as strongly supportive of having multiple people from one district."
Wheeler and Mapps expressed their own concerns at a city council advisory hearing in June, although neither of them explicitly said that they would vote "No" in November.
Mapps described the combination of multi-member districts and ranked choice voting as unique and untested, and he strongly objected to the commission's plan to bundle all of the proposed changes into a single ballot measure.
The bundling issue was also the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Portland Business Alliance that sought to have the package split into separate measures. A judge shot down that request last week, clearing the package to head to the ballot as a single measure.
Wheeler said he was concerned the lack of a mayoral veto under the proposed system would leave voters without a clear sense of who they should hold responsible if a policy failed, and he questioned whether the charter commission had considered a system with a stronger mayor.
Ryan said on Thursday that he would respect the will of the voters and be "all in" for the new government structure if the package passes, and he added that even if voters reject this particular package, he believes Portlanders broadly support reform and he would work to quickly present an alternative option.
"There's no way we'll wait 10 more years," he said. "There would be something on the ballot in 2023 if this fails, and the whole city city council will come together to get community engagement and have something on the ballot in 2023."