Didn't we just vote on Charter changes? Why are we appointing another Charter Commission right now?
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 (* see update added 12/17/10, below) for this 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 made significant cuts in staffing and services to citizens -- 9% cuts in the last two fiscal years
- 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 a two part Charter Review process.
* Update 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.
What do you mean, a two part Charter Review process?
- The Council 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.
- 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.
The Resolution to be voted on this coming Wednesday, December 15, is here. The list of appointees to the Commission is here.
What will the Charter Commission focus on?
The 2011 Charter Commission is being asked by the Council to address three issues as its priorities:
1) Prepare a list of minor housekeeping amendments, to put on the ballot in May or November of 2011.
Perhaps because previous Charter Commissions have concentrated on Big Picture discussions of the form of government and other complicated issues, there is language in the Charter that doesn't belong there in 2011. For example, my title is "Commission of Public Utilities". In the olden days, candidates for office would run for and be assigned a predetermined set of bureaus - utilities, safety, public works, etc. Now, the Mayor assigns the bureaus unrelated to the old titles, and each Commissioner's portfolio may change at will. I am not assigned any of the utilities. It would be less confusing for citizens if my title was simply, "Position number 1". That's an example of one of the minor amendments that could be made. Hopefully, the ballot measure will contain only issues without any controversy or need for extensive/intensive community discussion. Of course, mechanisms will be provided for Portlanders to give input to and review proposed amendments, including a public hearing at Council.
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.
This is self-explanatory, and necessary since we don't have the budget for broad public engagement on more major policy issues in 2011. We won't wait for the second Charter Commission to be formed, however, to begin discussions on important issues identified in the Portland Plan. I envision Neighborhood and Business Associations, and other community groups, continuing and expanding on the conversations on identified topics, either as part of or parallel with the Portland Plan. For instance, those with continued interest in changing the form of government could join together to identify a proposal to be considered by the second Charter Commission, between the closure of this one and the start of the next.
3) Provide advice to the Council on how to encourage participation and applications to be appointed for the second Charter Commission.
The current Charter requires that the Charter Commission has 20 members, four appointed by each of the five Council members. And, that the Commission shall be reflective of the City in terms of its racial and ethnic diversity, age and geography. Earlier this year, Mayor Adams agreed to my request to assign me to coordinate formation of the 2011 Commission. I realized that it would be very difficult to conduct an open, embracing application process encouraging anyone interested to participate, and then define a way of coordinating four nominations from five people that would end up with the required diversity in demographics. For good reasons, people are not required to state age or ethnicity on applications. The mechanism used to appoint the 2011 Charter Commission meets the standards in the Charter, but without inviting invitations from all interested Portland residents. I will welcome the 2011 Commission's advice on other ways to reach the goal in the second Charter Commission process. I will also seek advice from the Public Involvement Advisory Council, the League of Women Voters, Neighborhood and Business Associations, Diverse Civic Leadership partners, and other community groups and individuals.
It is important to note, and all nominees are aware, that once the Charter Commission is appointed, its members decide the rules of procedure and what the Commission will address. The 2011 Charter Commission is not bound by the Council's requests.
So how did the Council choose the 20 appointees for the 2011 Charter Commission?
With the assistance of Brian Hoop and Michelle Pellegrin in the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI), I conducted a survey of people currently serving on the City's 47 Boards and Commissions. I figure these volunteers already have knowledge about the way the City works (and doesn't), and that busy people are the best choices to approach getting a task done in a pragmatic, efficient manner. Over 80% of the members gave us the requested demographic information, giving the Council more than 300 people to select from, to invite to be appointed to the 2011 Charter Commission. I am very grateful both to those who responded to the survey, and to Brian and Michelle for their diligent work and follow-through.
Note, identifying folks who might agree to serve on the Charter Commission was only one of the goals of the survey project. I also wanted to find out how we are doing in terms of making Boards and Commissions accessible to all Portlanders. The survey showed that overall and in most categories, the members of the City's boards and Commissions do reflect the city as a whole. While the proportion of women and of people self-reporting living with disabilities is less than in the general population, we have a good range of age, ethnicity and geographic residency represented. Interestingly, approximately 20% of Board and Commission members don't live within the city limits. More work is needed before the summary data from the survey is available for public review. I'll provide more information on the wider project later. Please also note that since our Board and Commission members are volunteers, the City does not share their private contact information other than the names of those serving.
After I distributed the data compiled by Brian and Michelle, sorted by the demographics listed in the Charter, each member of the Council gave me a list of nominees. I circulated an aggregated list of the proposed members to my colleagues, then I made all the phone calls inviting participation. I was awed at the response. Portlanders are wonderful! Those invited are already serving our city, most in volunteer roles demanding huge investment of their time. Almost everyone accepted the nomination quickly..... although most after seeking clarity on the expectation for length and intensity of service, because after all, they're busy people. I was clear that the Charter mandates that the Commission once formed gets to set its own rules of procedure and scope of work. There is general support among members for the two-part approach. I am very pleased with the fine group of twenty 2011 Charter Commissioners the Council will appoint on December 15.
The next step after the appointments on Wednesday will be setting a meeting time and date in January. It will of course will be an open public meeting, which I'll publicize on my web site. We will set up a separate page for Portlanders to get information to and from the Commission, in January.
Aren't you usually in favor of transparent, broad public process, Amanda?
Yes. 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, limiting membership to Portlanders already participating in civic systems, and requesting a short, constrained process in 2011.
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. I want public outreach and engagement to concentrate on participation in the Portland Plan, aided by a Charter Commission that will propose Charter amendments that will remove distractions and organize other topics for future debate.
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. It will be appointed long before another ten years goes by. All Portlanders will be invited to apply to serve on the second Commission.
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, and that this is the right process for this time.