It’s been a few months since BikePortland last checked in with our city’s progress in moving toward its new form of government, so I’ll refresh everyone’s memory with a very short review of where we left off before launching into an update of what’s happening with the transition.
Readers will remember that voters rejected Portland’s “commission” form of government last fall in favor of a system which separates legislative and executive functions.
To achieve closer, fuller representation of constituents, November’s charter reform measure stipulated that the legislative body (the city council) be elected in four geographic districts using a ranked choice voting method to select three councilors within each district, for a total of a twelve-member city council.
The measure not only detailed the new structure of government and voting, it also provided a mandatory set of instructions for transitioning to it. The transition relies on three committees of volunteers with specific tasks and deadlines: the Independent District Commission; the Salary Commission; and the Government Transition Advisory Committee.
All committees have now been seated, and some of their deadlines are not too far away. So let’s look at what they are up to.
The Independent District Commission has been up and running the longest. The 13-member group will have its fifth meeting next week. Its job is to define the boundaries of the four new city council districts — by September. There is a lot of excitement around this.
In order to not run afoul of numerous laws regulating redistricting, including the Voting Rights Act, constitutional rules on race, and equal population requirements, there are several criteria each district must meet. Districts must
- be contiguous and compact
- use existing geographic or political boundaries
- not divide communities of common interest
- be connected by transportation links
- be of equal population
With those requirements in mind, this is the committee that gets to draw the maps. And you can draw along too! Keep your eye open for our related story on the new, improved DistrctR tool, coming up soon.
The Salary Commission is the smallest committee and is made up of five volunteers with human resources expertise. With guidance from Portland’s Bureau of Human Resources, this group’s task is to set the salaries of the twelve councilors, the mayor, and the auditor. This is a change from past practice in which the city council set its own salary. These new salaries will be adopted by August 1st.
This is the only committee made up of experts, and they must set competitive salaries which will attract qualified people—within the guidelines of public employment—while recognizing that many of our future leaders will be relying on that salary to live in Portland. They meet for the third time on April 27.
Their work is an ongoing task which must be periodically reevaluated. A new salary commission will be appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council every two years.
The Government Transition Advisory Committee is the last committee to get up and running, which has caused consternation among charter reform advocates. It’s the committee which advises the city on the whole transition ball-of-wax. Fifteen members were approved by the city council at the end of March, and the group will have its first meeting at the end of April. It does not yet have a web page.
Those are the public-facing, charter reform measure-required, transition committees composed of community members. Obviously, there is also a bit of work going on within the city government, but those internal workings are harder to track.
For example, the Oregonian recently reported that the interim director of the Office of Community & Civic Life, Michael Montoya, has stepped down after two years in the position. Montoya punctuated his departure with a confidential memo to Commissioner-in-charge Dan Ryan which indicated that Civic Life is still in turmoil and detailed a host of bureau problems with overseeing Portland’s neighborhood association structure—including dropped insurance coverage and also possible financial impropriety across multiple district coalitions. Montoya is being replaced by Commissioner Ryan senior aide T.J. McHugh.
Those kinds of rumblings are hard to interpret for any but the most plugged-in city observers, but it leaves the impression that a lot of house-cleaning is still to come. Stay tuned as we keep you informed about this massive shift in how our city is governed.