The Portland Charter Commission will soon take up the first round of formal proposals from its working committees, including one calling for the creation of a police oversight and review board.

The commission is expected to meet Jan. 19 to hold preliminary discussions about three or four proposed changes to the city charter, which sets out the basic structure of government. Commissioners will have the chance to ask questions about the proposals and expect to meet again Jan. 26 to hear from the public and vote on them.

“It’s exciting,” said Charter Commission Chair Michael Kebede. “We are on schedule and I’m very impressed with the progress the committees have been able to make.”

The 12-member commission began reviewing possible changes to the charter last summer. Much of the work so far has taken place in meetings of its committees. If committee proposals are embraced by the full commission, they could be recommended to voters, who will make the final decisions in a citywide referendum.

The commission is scheduled to issue a preliminary report on its recommendations to the City Council by March and a final report by June, although the council may allow for extra time.

One of the proposals the commission will consider next month is for a police oversight and review board that would be able to receive community complaints about the police department, review findings of internal affairs investigations and make policy recommendations.


“It’s not meant to be an adversarial relationship with the police department at all,” said Ryan Lizanecz, chair of the Charter Commission’s departments committee. “We’re not trying to say the police department does a bad job by any means. These boards exist in dozens of places around the country and in some cases the police department likes them because their reports show the police department does a good job and there’s nothing going on they need to be concerned with.”

David Singer, spokesman for Portland police, said the department is not commenting on the proposal at this time.

Some aspects of the police oversight board, such as stipends for members and use of professional staff, would come with a cost. Lizanecz said that where funding is concerned, the committee aims to defer to the City Council, which is charged with approving the annual budget.

“The City Council could fund it $1 or the City Council could fund it whatever amount they want to,” Lizanecz said. “There is no amount that’s specified. The stipends could be $50. They could be $1,000. It’s up to our elected officials. We didn’t want the fiscal part of it to bog down the idea, but we recognize funding is important to any board like this functioning.”

The cost of various proposals was the subject of broader debate when the commission met last week. Some commissioners said cost information would be useful for voters. Others said it is not the job of the commission to allocate city funds and that members are under time constraints to fulfill their task of addressing the structure of government.

“I think what’s emerging is, ‘It’s a good idea, let’s put fiscal notes on our proposals if we can … but let’s not require it and let’s not impose a methodology so it becomes an onerous proposal-killing rule,’ ” Kebede said at the meeting.


Other proposals the commission could consider next month include changes to the roles of the mayor and city manager, universal resident voting, renaming the Portland Board of Public Education and amending the preamble of the charter to acknowledge the city’s location on Native American land.

The proposal for changes in the roles of the mayor and city manager are still taking shape, said Robert O’Brien, who chairs the governance committee.

O’Brien said some of the ideas discussed by the committee include giving the elected mayor more control over budget development and creating a new position of chief of staff to be the point person for the council and mayor to access staff as well as for constituent services, freedom of information requests and scheduling meetings.

After its next meeting Wednesday, O’Brien’s committee “should have a better idea of what product we will be bringing forward to the full commission,” he said in an email.

Pat Washburn, a member of the elections committee, said she expects to bring a revised proposal for universal resident voting back to that committee Jan. 4. If the committee approves it, the proposal could go to the full commission at the end of the month.

Universal resident voting allows adult residents to vote in local elections even if they do not have full citizenship. Asylum seekers, permanent residents and other immigrants are prohibited by law from voting in federal and state elections, but the proposal would permit them to vote in city elections and on city ballot initiatives.


Washburn said the revisions will aim to strengthen the language around protecting non-citizens. Advocates have raised concerns about putting immigrants in legal jeopardy if they exercise the right to vote.

“We don’t want to end up in a situation where we are giving (U.S. Immigrants and Customs Enforcement) a one-stop shopping list,” Washburn said.

Washburn also chairs the procedures committee and said that committee is expecting to propose that the preamble of the charter include a Native American land acknowledgement to recognize Indigenous people and their traditional territories.

A proposal coming from members of the commission’s education committee calls for officially changing the name of the Portland Board of Public Education to the Portland School Board, said Marcques Houston, who chairs the committee.

“They call themselves the school board and the public calls it the school board,” he said. “It just seems easier for everyone to call it the school board.”

The education committee also has been discussing ways to increase collaboration between the council and school board, as well as participatory budgeting, in which neighborhoods would be allocated a pool of money and could decide for themselves how to spend it. But he said those proposals aren’t likely to be ready for consideration by the full commission on the 19th.


Other proposals being considered by committees include the creation of a city ombudsman or public advocate, proportional ranked-choice voting, public financing of candidates, or clean elections, and a revised pay structure for the council.

“This is going to be quite a dance to try and pull together with public hearing times and us trying to understand the work we’re doing,” Commissioner Dory Waxman said at the Dec. 22 meeting.

“Some of these proposals aren’t going to go anywhere. I think as much as we want to do our best work, there is stuff that’s going to get eliminated,” Waxman said. “At some point when we make our recommendations, we can’t recommend 50 things get changed. I think it’s impossible to do that amount of vetting.”

The full commission plans to start meeting every two weeks after the Jan. 26 meeting. The plan is to try to give at least two weeks notice before proposals go to public hearing, which means proposals that would be the subject of public hearings on Jan. 26 would be made available to the public by Jan. 12.

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