When the voters chose in 2007 to update several parts of the Portland City Charter, effective 2009, a new section was adopted requiring the appointment of a Charter Review Commission in January 2011. Part of the reason for this (* see 12/17 update at end of post) was that the package of amendments offered to voters in 2007 included changing from the Commission form of government to a City Manager structure. A relatively quick review was deemed necessary in case unintended consequences or glitches would be discovered after the change, that needed prompt correction.
- the voters chose not to change the form of government
- the recession hit, with more than 10% of Oregonians out of work and many families struggling to keep food on the table and roofs over heads
- City bureaus have been required to make significant cuts in staffing and services to citizens
- the Portland Plan is in progress, with citywide, broad outreach to discuss who we are and what we want Portland to be in 2035 -- a process expected to take at least one more year before final review and adoption of the Plan by Council
- the last Charter Review process cost $600,000
For all these reasons, the Council is planning for a two part Charter Review process. We will appoint one Charter Commission by Resolution on December 15, to start work in January 2011 as required by the Charter. We have asked appointees to limit the scope and timeframe to three topics (see below) and six months. Then, we commit to appointing a second Charter Commission soon after conclusion of the Portland Plan, to look at wider policy changes that might be forwarded to voters. Participation on the first Charter Commission will neither advance or detract from a citizen's opportunity to be appointed to the second one.
More information on the 2011 Charter Commission, in a Question and Answer format, is here. The Resolution to be voted on this coming Wednesday, December 15, is here. The list of appointees to the Commission is here.
The 2011 Charter Commission is being asked by the Council to address three issues as its priorities:
1) Define a list of minor housekeeping amendments, to put on the ballot in May or November of 2011.
2) Develop a list of issues with policy implications, to be discussed by the second Charter Commission formed after the conclusion of the Portland Plan.
3) Provide advice to the Council on how to encourage participation and applications to be appointed for the second Charter Commission.
Note, once the members have been appointed, the Commission gets to decide its own rules of procedure and scope of work. I explained the proposed two part process to each nominee, and I hope the Charter Commission members will choose to follow the Council's requested directions. In January, the Commission will hold its first meeting (all meetings will be public, of course) and a web site will be established to share information to and from other Portlanders as the process moves forward.
Some have commented that it is more than a little incongruent for someone who is a policy geek, Charter language wonk, and passionate supporter of broad, inclusive community engagement to coordinate the appointment a Charter Commission without requesting applications to serve, while also limiting participation to those already known to the Council, and requesting a short, constrained process in 2011. I agree, it's not the way I usually like to see Portlanders engaged a public process.
So let me be very clear: The Council is requesting a two-part Charter process. This first Commission is being asked to provide a quick, pragmatic win to voters, offering amendments that will be non-controversial and allow Portlanders to continue to focus on surviving the recession. The Portland Plan process will continue, and focus the limited resources of citizen and staff capacity, funding and time, to define what Portland is now and what we want it to be in 2035.
Then the second Charter Commission will conduct the necessary broad-based public process that will provide the vehicle to define and offer significant policy amendments to voters.
I believe support of two Charter Commissions, with the Portland Plan linking the two, gives Portland citizens more opportunity to effect changes in the Charter.
* Update added 12/17/10: A kind Portlander who served on the last Charter Commission informs me that another reason for requiring a Charter Commission in 2011, was that previous Charter Commissions were limited to the charges and scope requested by Council. The last Commission wanted a robust discussion of whatever Portlanders might want to discuss, in 2011. My reasoning that the recession and the ongoing Portland Plan would make that broad discussion more meaningful, deep, and diverse after the conclusion of the Portland Plan still stands.