The Multnomah County Circuit Court has ruled against the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) challenge to a voting and governance measure slated for November’s ballot. The PBA had argued that the broad package of changes referred to the ballot by the Charter Review Commission violated the state constitution’s single-subject requirement.
In today’s ruling, Judge Stephen K. Bushong concluded that the measure does not violate that requirement.
This is the second charter reform defeat this summer for the PBA. In July, the City Auditor’s office declined a PBA request to conduct a constitutional review of the proposed reforms, responding that the Auditor only reviews “initiatives”—measures brought to the ballot via signatures—not “referrals” to the ballot made by governing entities. Despite that setback, the PBA unsuccessfully pressed forward with this same argument to the Circuit Court.
In response to the ruling the co-chair of the Charter Review Commission, Melanie Billings-Yun, told BikePortland that:
The court has agreed that the Portland Charter Commission has developed an indivisible and comprehensive plan for bringing meaningful change to our city government. As Judge Bushong so rightly said in his ruling, “All the provisions in this package of reforms are properly connected to the unifying principle of reforming the structure and operation of city government.” That unifying principle is creating a governing system that is accountable, responsive and representative of all the people of Portland. Now Portland voters will have the power to choose a better future for our city.
Today’s decision brings to a close a strange interlude in which the City Council has been in the awkward position of watching the City Auditor’s and Attorney’s offices defend the legality of recommendations made by the council-appointed Charter Review Commission, even as council members’ reaction to the full package of those recommendations ranges from tepid to testy.
The Charter Review Commission (CRC) is an independent body of 20 volunteers called together by the Portland City Council every ten years to review and recommend changes to Portland’s city charter, the constitution of the city. Each Council member is allowed to nominate four charter commissioners who are then subject to Council confirmation. A super-majority of 15 out of 20 CRC commissioners can refer their recommended changes directly to the voters. By a comfortable 17 to 3 vote this past June, the current CRC referred its package of amendments to the November ballot.
Mayor Wheeler summed up the relation between the City Council and the Charter Review Commission in the June 29 Council meeting in which the CRC informed the Council of their recommendations:
You have voted with your super-majority to refer this directly to the residents of the City of Portland. Obviously, you are their body, not our body, and our comments here are truly for informational purposes only, as opposed to policy making.
As of today’s Circuit Court ruling, the fate of changes to Portland’s form of governance and method of electing city officials will be in the hands of November’s voters.
Between now and November, however, the charter reform measure will face organized opposition. Both Commissioner Mingus Mapps and former Council candidate Vadim Mozyrsky have political action committees which will oppose the full suite of changes proposed in the measure. As BikePortland previously reported, Mapps’s Ulysses PAC will host forums on alternatives to the current measure, and Mapps himself plans to put forward a draft alternative proposal for the Spring 2023 ballot.
Mozyrsky has teamed up with Chuck Duffy and Steven Moskowitz, former staffers of late Mayor Bud Clark, to form Partnership for Common Sense Government which brashly opposes the ballot measure.
But the measure also has a growing number of proponents, including the City Club of Portland, the League of Women Voters and the Urban League. And a recently formed group, Portland United for Change, is a coalition of organizations working to support the CRC measure.
Stay tuned as we continue to cover this story.
Lisa Caballero has lived in SW Portland for 20 years. She is on the Transportation Committee of her neighborhood association, the Southwest Hills Residential League (SWHRL) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.