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Portland Charter Commission proposes three big changes to how the city is governed

Members of the commission came to a preliminary agreement on a reform package that would be sent to voters for approval in November.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Late Thursday evening, a group that has been studying Portland's city government structure delivered a long-awaited pronouncement — that the members have unanimously agreed on a package of reforms designed to make "the city that works" work more smoothly.

The Portland Charter Commission said in a news release that it had reached preliminary agreement on three major changes that will ultimately go before Portland voters:

  • Allowing voters to rank candidates in order of their preference, using ranked choice voting

  • Creating four new geographic districts with three members elected to represent each district, expanding the city council to a total of 12 members 

  • A city council that focuses on setting policy and a mayor elected citywide to run the city’s day-to-day operations, with the help of a professional city administrator

"This proposal will make Portland’s government more accountable, transparent and effective,” said Candace Avalos, a member of the Charter Commission who co-chaired the Form of Government Committee. “It positions us to get Portland moving in the right direction and address our most pressing challenges – expanding affordable housing, mitigating gun violence, building climate resilience and improving the city’s infrastructure.”

Members of the independent Charter Commission are appointed once a decade to evaluate Portland's governing structure and recommend changes. The current group has been at work since December of 2020.

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The Charter Commission said that more than 6,000 Portlanders have weighed in over the past year through a series of public comments, surveys, and community discussions — striving to include people who usually lack access to the levers of government decision-making.

"Charter Commissioners have heard Portlanders’ dissatisfaction with the status quo and say there is a groundswell of support to change Portland’s ineffective form of government. Portland is the last major city in the U.S. that still has a commission form of government," the Charter Commission said in a statement.

After Thursday's preliminary vote, the City Attorney's Office is charged with drafting the charter amendments. Those drafts are expected to be released in early May.

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“The Charter Commission proposal was truly created by – and for – Portlanders,” said Becca Uherbelau, a member of the Charter Commission who chairs the Community Engagement Committee. “I’m proud that these recommendations are responsive to Portlanders’ calls for change.” 

Members of the community will be able to provide feedback on the proposed reforms during a series of public hearings in May. The final vote by the Charter Commission won't be held until mid-June.

At least 15 commissioners must agree with the final proposal in order to send it to Portland voters for the Nov. 2022 election.

“Portlanders recognize we are at an inflection point – this is the moment for change,” said Debbie Kitchin, who currently co-chairs the Charter Commission.  “A decade from now, Portlanders can look back on 2022 and feel proud that we made positive change happen.”

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