This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 16, 2007 3:36 AM. The previous post in this blog was Survivor Portland Bureaucracy: Day 12. The next post in this blog is Earl's knot running. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On the charter change results

The votes on yesterday's Portland charter change referenda were interesting. The failure of the proposed restructuring of the city's form of government was no surprise. I'd be glad if we could eventually get to a true ward or district representation system for the City Council (with some term limits), and you certainly run into some serious objections if you try to install districts within the existing commission format. Still, this ballot proposal to change the system was not well presented. Perhaps due to its substantive flaws, strong presentation was impossible.

In contrast, the public has said it is ready to re-examine the charter again on a regular basis, starting no later than 2011 (or maybe sooner), and so maybe some improvements can be effectuated then. I would not bet on it, however -- the vote against change this time was 3 to 1, and it will probably take some sort of actual disaster that can conclusively be pinned on the commission form before that kind of deficit can be overcome. The campaigns this time around struck me as particularly inane, and one can only hope that the quality will improve next time.

City Council budget control over the Portland Development Commission (which passed) is not a panacea by any means, but additional eyes that can be cast over the doings of "independent" agencies with nine-figure budgets are a very good thing. (Now if somebody can just figure out a way to get more eyes on the Lottery, Tri-Met, OHSU, the OLCC....)

The civil service change is disappointing. Now there may be more backroom dealing and cronyism in filling mid-level management in the city bureaucracy. Critics see some fairly weak political appointees in some of the bureaus already -- this change certainly wouldn't lessen their number. Eventually, it will probably have the opposite effect. And with the commission system chugging along, the bureaus are subject to annual reshuffling among the commissioners by the mayor. And so the games of musical chairs will be just as frequent, only now there will be more chairs to play with every time. Doesn't seem like an improvement to my untrained eye.

Oh, and one other thing: If I lost 3 to 1, I would have a nice cup of Sleepytime Tea and get a good night's sleep before I'd hit the "send" button on something like this.

Comments (28)

So the results of this election indicate the voters of Portland are dead-set against change in any way, shape or form?
I don't believe so. I believe you're seeing fear of the unknown.
It's kind of like what come to be known as "Tax Reform". "Tax Reform" has come to mean that, when implemented, I pay more taxes. So when voters reject changes in the tax system the media concludes that the voters are "happy" with the current tax system.
Of course nothing could be further from the truth. At least with the current system the taxpayer knows what's coming and can prepare for it. That's just a normal self-preservation instinct all of us have.

26-89 requires another Charter Review Commission be convened no later than two years, i.e., we start this all over again in 2009. Perhaps sooner, since the measure said "no later than two years" and "no less frequently than every ten years" after that. So we could have endless, ongoing Charter Commissions sending more proposed changes to any May or November ballot.

Oh joy.

Your blog makes me never want to live in Portland. I don't know if that's your agenda, but you really put in a bad word for this city.

Curious? Check out Christopher Ruddy

the "strong mayor" reform failed to pass, since ~15% of all voters didn't want it. now, the opponents of it can breathe a sigh of relief.

but i'm worried now, for two reasons:

1) some may see its failure as a confirmation of support for the current status quo, and

2) we still have the same glaring problems of budget inefficiency, poor communication, lack of cohesive vision and bureaucrats gaming the system (e.g., the Mt. Tabor land deal.)

in other words--now what?

What you all should be worried about is that less than 25% of the registered voters actually voted. This is why you end up with an inept City Government like Portland's.

Thankfully, the voters of Portland were not to be fooled by Potter and his accomplices, including the Oregonian. From the very beginning, it was not a real attempt at charter reform (e.g., evaluating districts), but rather a shameless power grab scheme by Potter and his handlers. The charter committee was stacked with Potter's 2003 campaign supporters and people predisposed to any strong mayor model. Sadly a lot of money had to be wasted to fight it.

There was not one city identified where the mayor served in both the executive and legislative branches of city government. This is the most telling fact of a power grab.

Next up, the campaign to expose the real Tom Potter to the public for the next election.

I always have to chuckle a little when proponents of some idea complain that low voter turnout scuttled their brilliant plans. It wouldn't have changed the outcome one iota, but proponents of the "strong mayor" plan could have chosen to place this measure on a November ballot, perhaps even waiting until November 2008 when a Presidential and Senatorial election will drive high turnout.

So quit yer bitchin' about the turnout - it's your own f-ing fault.

Correction: Chris Smith pointed out to me that the effective date of 26-89 isn't until January 1, 2009, so Jack is correct in his initial post that the next Charter Commission starts no later than 2011.

Like this past Commission, the Council/Mayor could choose to convene one at any time. I hope the Mayor ignores the O's advice, and gives us all a break to concentrate on more immediate problems for a while.

There was not one city identified where the mayor served in both the executive and legislative branches of city government.

i'm fairly sure you're mistaken--in fact, that's exactly how it works in most larger cities.

it's my understanding that in Portland, the City Council is "legislative" and 'executive" combined--all council members have both legislative and executive powers.

in fact, i'd say the office of Mayor in Portland is somewhat ceremonial--the mayor presides over various council functions and may have political clout, but does not have veto or other significant strong powers.

eco: The Mayor has the singular power to assign bureaus. At any time.

I've been here fifty years, and my take is that a lot of Portlanders don't trust a concentration of power. They would rather put up with the faltering operation of the city government than allow it to become the playground of a tight elite.


At least enough of them at this time...meaning those "motivated voters" that candidates talk about all the time...continued to support decentralization of local municipal power. I can't say as I blame them. Every time I thought about this, I just kept coming back to: how would I feel about this if ___________ (insert name of least favorite politician) were a realistic possibility to be this "strong" mayor. No thanks.

There was not one city identified where the mayor served in both the executive and legislative branches of city government.

"i'm fairly sure you're mistaken--in fact, that's exactly how it works in most larger cities."

Well, no. There's usually either a mayor/council split to executive and legislative, or there's a council which includes a "mayor", often rotating amongst council members, and the city is run by a hired manager.

This proposal was neither of those.

What's missing from all of the pro and con discussion of this important issue is the primary consideration of the hired city manager who would manage and run the bureaus. Sadly, the debate was all about the politics and the politicians, in truth, whom we were trying to decouple from bureau management. Only when the issue can be framed as a professional management issue, rather than just the eternal, dithering, political pissing contest 'mongst the 5-who-are-not-leaders, will it ever have any chance of success.

Well, no. There's usually either a mayor/council split to executive and legislative, or there's a council which includes a "mayor", often rotating amongst council members, and the city is run by a hired manager.

b!x, can you give more info to support that it's "usually" that way? every large city government i find info about indicates that it's in fact otherwise.

the mayor-council form is typically either "weak" (executive power is shared) or "strong" (mayor holds most or all executive authority.) Potter lobbied for the "strong" variation of the "mayor-council" form.

in fact, i'd argue that we already have the council-manager form, sans the actual city manager. legislative and executive power are in the hands of both Potter and the rest of the Council. Potter can reassign bureaus, which is actually a "strong mayor" power in most other cities.

i should add that both forms you described do not reserve executive power exclusively to the mayor or a hired city manager.


In a "weak mayor" system (normally of the council-manager type), the council is both legislative and executive, and in a "strong mayor" system (normally of the mayor-council type), the mayor is executive and the council legislative.

In addition, in the council-manager form, the "mayor" often is a position which simply rotates amongst the council members (and so really is almost a ceremonial title), and the council hires a manager to run the city.

In none of these cases is the mayor both a strong solitary executive AND a member of the legislative branch.

Only when the issue can be framed as a professional management issue . . . will it ever have any chance of success.

Actually, the voters moved away from professional management by approving the civil service changes. Those changes will politicize bureau management to an extent never seen before in Portland. Perhaps they were confused by the innocuous-sounding text of the measure, but whatever the reason it's certainly not a move towards more "professionalism."

we still have the same glaring problems of budget inefficiency, poor communication, lack of cohesive vision and bureaucrats gaming the system.

In other words--now what?

The Mayor already has a lot of influence over how the City operates. He controls OMF, which runs all of the centralized, back-office operations -- IT, HR, financial operations, procurement, etc. This stuff is already overseen by a CAO. Most of the inefficiencies that the reform proponents were talking about can be overcome without changing the charter -- that was a strawman concocted by the campaign. But making the city more efficient requires the Mayor to show some leadership and work cooperatively with the Council.

That's not really Potter's style, which is why I predict he won't run for Mayor again. He proposed this reform in order to get the same power and control he had as police chief. Absent that power, I think he'll announce in the fall that he's stepping down after one term.

Who has control of PDC books?
Who has unrerstricted access to PDC books?
Did 26-92 change who does?

Imho, we won't see real reform until and unless we can get to the bottom of problems with our decision-making culture and face the reality that virtually all Oregon decision-making forums can be corrupted. To do that, we need a press more willing to act as the "Fourth Estate rather than for the state" to quote Amy Goodman. In the meantime, it seems the best we can do is clumsy efforts to effect a system of checks and balances.


You're right.

Trying to ignore human nature and rely on "systems" designed to weed out the ineffective, incompetent and unprincipled is the same sort of unaccountable BS we're expected to settle for in our schools.

Trouble is, it just doesn't work in a world filled with fallible folks. The onus is on us - "systems" won't bail us out - we need to be engaged. In the vacuum created by the sycophantic "media" in this town, we just need to be better citizens.

...or we should just shut up.

well stated, Cynthia.

Sigh. What a disappointing outcome. And I ended up voting with the majority on 3 of 4!

The best analysis of this was written a year ago by b!x. This was a poorly thought out "cut and paste" job by a citizen's committee that may have worked hard, but doesn't look like it worked effectively. The most interesting question might be how this committee was chosen and why the output was so inferior.

Chris will continue to tell us how this shows the commission system is "responsible" for the greatness of Portland, which is completely silly.

Others will tell us this was a "power grab" by the Mayor which is just as silly.

And the silo-ing of bureaus, political posturing by the four mayors in waiting, downtown-centric development, and underrepresentation of the disempowered continues.

Anna Griffin's story captures this best: a big money campaign on *both* sides that blew a lot of smoke but cast very little light. By any measure, the powers that be won this election, regardless of how they cast themselves as the "little people."

the charter change item on the ballot was largely due to the efforts of the fourth estate.

but mostly, we clucked at their misguided intentions--somehow, we knew better, but none of us had a proposal on the ballot. in the end, over 80% of us failed to even vote on the matter.

to say that five co-mayors provides more "checks and balances" is nonsense. there is no genuine separation of powers.

and government is not a mechanical device that you design, set in motion and forget--*we* are the checks and balances.

i've noticed almost complete silence on claiming responsibility for the monumental failures of SoWa, for example. which council member can i hold accountable? all were involved in some way.

now--developers still run amok. we still have the silos. SoWa marches on. Burnside couplet. the Tram. a repetitious and sickeningly giddy attitude towards development and wonkish, false "teamwork" attitude towards citizen health and needs.

we don't need a better team. we need great leadership. we need courage and a vision. we need somebody (or a few somebodies) with decision-making authority to act boldly--for us.

what makes Portland great? Trams, Pearl Districts, unaffordable concrete box condos and 30-story silos for the gentry? trampling every acre of riverfront and making it private property? *Tourism*, for god's sake?

ahh. that felt good. now, back to Jack.

"The most interesting question might be how this committee was chosen and why the output was so inferior."
[longish post warning]

I could suggest a number of possibilities of why this was such a failure, but one reigns supreme, to my eyes:

The charter review commission, despite its claims to the contrary in its January report to city council, never effectively engaged in any meaningful participatory dialog with citizens to gauge what a majority of voters might be looking for in a new form of governance. In a presentation I attended (in early 2006?) at PSU, some of the CRC members presented a plan for change that was nearly identical to what we just voted on, and there were numerous questions from audience members about other options -- tops among them, perhaps, district representation on city council, with a larger number of representatives -- all of which seem to have been ignored. The imperial mayor form," as it was dubbed by Sam Adams due to its curious attribution of 20% of legislative power to an already-strengthened executive, was simply presented as a fait accompli. It was quite apparent that there would be no "discussion" with anyone involved in this fiasco.

And when the same plan was initially presented to city council last summer, three of our elected officials (who, admittedly, were going to lose plenty of authority under the new plan, but whose interrogation of the crc leadership was the first widely available public forum on the topic (in June 2006)) asked critical questions of those present to testify. The result? The review commission members were burning with righteous outrage at their "treatment" by council (Potter even apologized to CRC members at the following meeting of the commission for their terrible treatment at the hands of council, treatment which, by my standards, simply amounted to fair questioning of what had been essentially a plan derived behind closed doors, by a commission dominated by real estate developers, and people who had written strong mayor ballot measures over the course of the last 40 years). And I do mean dominated -- does 25% of our city's population really consist of real estate developers?

Paul Meyers, Bob Ball, and Jim Meyer (two of whom were on the CRC's mysterious "executive committee," which, according to staff, kept no records of its meetings) then concluded (at their 6/29/06 and 7/20/06 meetings) that the CRC should not bow down or fold to council's questions or submit to further review from the public. The Rev. Harold Williams even suggested, on 7/20, that even though public outreach had been weak to that point, the commission of 26 (at that point, 6 would later drop out) members was representative of the city as a whole, and that the council had the obligation to refer this to voters without further scrutiny.

The Charter Review Commission had one goal from the outset: to draw up a single, predetermined form of government, and sell that to voters in any way possible.

Your blog makes me never want to live in Portland. I don't know if that's your agenda, but you really put in a bad word for this city.

Just remember, Jack doesnt create the problems in Portland, he just reports them.


You are very mistaken at the make-up of the commission. It was a very diverse group of people. I recommend you read the report to City Council and the backgrounds of all the Commission members. The commission was very independent and I would be happy to meet with all of those posting on this Blog to give my view on the process and to answer any questions you may have about the whole commission and proccess. I'm very new to blogging but would love to meet a group of you to talk about it all and debrief you. I've been following the blogs but haven't had time to post because of the campaign. For me personally, it was never anything about my profession and any relationship between developing new buildings or restoring old ones and getting something out of a change in governance other than to make our city better.

Bob Ball

Paul, how can you claim it was "silly" that Potter's move wasn't a "power grab"? When Potter comprised HIS committee of a majority of friends, supporters, campaign workers and people predisposed to any form of strong mayor model, then what else could it be? Those who were NOT, quit the group.

Obviously you did not see the names of the 13 people out of the 20 who remained on the charter committee who voted for the strong mayor model, nor did you likely watch the committee meetings. Do your homework first, then you might speak on a subject intelligently.

Yes, we have to be the checks and balances, to be engaged as rr says. And I agree, rr, that the media in this town is sycophantic, as are too many members of the general public. The deep need to look up to lying public figures just seems too compelling. Many nights-like this one- I wake up distressed and can't sleep because I know of issues and problems that are not seeing the light of day due to this phenomenon. For example, the fact that Mulnomah County Animal Services and Oregon Humane Society does not, in fact, generally function as a bailee for lost pets, although much of the public presumes it does. They are more focused on supplying animal users, despite a public mandate to move in another direction. Your cat might be killed at one of the "shelters" or sent to a research lab, and you would never know it. More sickening to me is the business incentive to screw pet owners. A couple weeks ago, I attended a CLE on "Animals and Religion". The organizing lawyer invited the executive director of the Oregon Humane Society to attend. She made the statement that the cat and dog fur trade is illegal. Yes, it is. But this statement amounted to a half-truth more pernicious than a lie, because there is an exception (ORS 167.390(1) that permits trade and cat and dog fur if the animal was killed for another purpose (like at a pound because of "pet overpopulaton"). When I asked her if she was aware of the exception, she simply said "yes". Many of the conference attendees were non-lawyer animal advocates I know. These people -and Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the United States- were very easily manipulated into applauding this conniving, lying woman as a great humane leader. The press falls for it, too, even when members have factual information revealing problems and questions.

I notice the Moscow Cat Theatre is going to be in town next weekend and I think of the young Russian woman I once encountered in the cat kennels at MCAS who was weeping because her husband had told her about how pounds like that one are not motivated to reunite pets and pet owners, and in fact, have profound conflicts of interest.

And I almost gag when I see the ads in the Oregonian bragging about its Pulitzers and its prowess as a watchdog. These people seem to have the sychophantic need to be "important", but little or no interest in local issues that matter greatly to ordinary citizens in the course of their daily lives.

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