Opinion: Building a municipal administration that Portlanders can trust
Raahi Reddy, Robin Ye and Candace Avalos
The authors are members of the Portland Charter Commission. Reddy is co-chair of the commission. Ye co-chairs the commission’s municipal council elections committee and Avalos co-chairs the commission’s form of government committee. Avalos is also a monthly columnist for The Oregonian / OregonLive.
The Portland Charter Commission has embarked on a unique opportunity to review the city’s charter and recommend amendments to get Portlandians to vote. From the structure of municipal government to the roles and powers of the mayor and council, amendments to the charter – the city’s constitution – can have a huge impact on how Portlanders approach the most pressing issues facing our city. .
The commission is focused on resolving fundamental questions of what form of government Portland should have and how the city should run city council elections, with the hope that further reforms will flow from those decisions. We plan to identify the recommended revisions over the next 8 months for presentation to voters in the November 2022 ballot.
Our commission is guided by what we call our “northern stars” – the results we want Portlandians to see from our reforms. We believe that Portlanders should experience a government chosen and shaped by more Portlanders than there are currently. We believe that the people of Portland should have city commissioners who come from the neighborhoods of Portland and are directly accountable to those who elected them; and we believe Portland should expect city leaders to be responsive, adaptable, accessible and effective in meeting our city’s short- and long-term challenges. We want a Portland city government that is trusted by its constituents.
This goal can only be achieved by engaging with Portlanders from all walks of life and from all racial and economic backgrounds. Politicians and powerbrokers still have a mic and a platform, but we want to hear from the people who don’t. We are engaged in a community process that informs our decisions and our way forward, but we need those who have historically been excluded from City Hall decision-making to join the table now. To this end, we work with trusted organizations to organize listening sessions and we travel to community meetings ourselves to connect with people on their own grounds. There are no shortcuts to meaningful community engagement and solid popular education – these things take time.
At the heart of our work is a question about the voice: who has it in Portland, how are they heard, and how far can our elected government respond. It is about lowering the barriers to participation. It’s about valuing people’s thoughts. It is a government that mirrors the city he rules. As Charter Commissioners, we know what is at stake in developing a process that gives historically disenfranchised communities a voice in our local democracy by reimagining a government that structurally, socially and politically will not continue to fail. aside the necessary perspectives that can help shape policies and actions from which everyone can benefit.
The commission is dedicated to evaluating all proposed reforms based on how those changes would affect a Portland resident’s experience when interacting with their city government. What would a better democracy look like for the residents of Portland? How would the voting experience be? What would Portlanders be like to see their values reflected in the way the city invests its resources and provides services?
Portland, we have a chance to make a huge difference in the way our leaders govern our city, but we can’t do it without your support. Over the next few months, the commission will continue to research the issues, synthesize data, collect information and listen to your voices with the help of 20 community organizations. In November, we will be holding listening sessions to solicit your thoughts on our municipal government and the elections. In January, we’ll be sharing a wide range of options for you to consider and evaluate. The committee will then vote on a set of proposals to send for additional comments in the spring. Visit our website at www.portland.gov/omf/charter-review-commission to share public comments, register for our upcoming events, and stay up to date on our process.
At a time when it seems political theater is stifling a real conversation about our common future, we urge Portlanders to join us on this non-partisan journey to transform the way the leaders we elect deliver on their promises. Good intentions in a broken system are no longer enough. As the crises that Portland continue to worsen, now is the time to make bold changes that will change the course of the city we all love. There is no time to waste, join us in Portland!
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