A commission tasked with reviewing and making changes to the city’s charter is close to finalizing its first proposal – for a civilian police review board – and is seeking more time to make further recommendations.

The Portland Charter Commission is asking the city if it could extend the current deadlines to deliver a preliminary report on its recommendations in March and a final report in June and still have the proposed revisions on the November ballot.

“Having the recommendations on the November ballot is crucial because it’s a gubernatorial election so there will be a large turnout,”  commission Chair Michael Kebede said.

The request comes as the commission fine-tunes its first proposal: a civilian police review board. The commission voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize its attorney to draft formal charter language for the proposal, which members will then vote on again. Kebede said the proposal is not likely to change significantly unless commissioners propose amendments.

“If we do entertain an amendment, there may be another round of public comment, deliberations and voting, but at that stage it will likely be in the formal charter language,” Kebede said. “I’m confident the next time we vote will be the last time.”

Voters approved the creation of the charter commission in June 2020 in response to a citizen petition calling for a clean elections program. The commission’s task is to review the city charter, which lays out the basic governmental structure of the city, and recommend changes. In addition to the police review board, the commission is considering proposals that include a city-administered clean elections program, changes to the duties of the mayor and city manager, and universal resident voting, which would allow adult residents of the city to vote in municipal races even if they did not have full citizenship.

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The commission is currently scheduled to deliver its preliminary report by March 8 and its final report to the City Council by June 8.

The proposals will then need to be put before voters. For the proposals to pass, they must receive a majority of the votes and the number of ballots cast in the election must equal or exceed 30 percent of the total votes cast in Portland in the last gubernatorial election, which is about 10,225 votes.

In an email to the commission’s attorney Tuesday, City Clerk Katherine Jones said she would need the final recommendations by Sept. 1 in order to have ballots ready for the Nov. 8 election.

“If their final report and orders are approved by the council they would require two readings, this puts us to June and July for first reading and second reading and public hearing. This agrees with the original timeline,” Jones wrote. “If they ask for an extension, this would not follow the timeline set up and would put them at a June 2023 or a special election.”

SEEKING MORE TIME

Kebede said the commission has asked if the council could consider the final report on an accelerated timeline in order to give the commission more time while still meeting the clerk’s deadline for preparing ballots.

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“We haven’t asked for a date,” he said. “We’ll see how much (time) we can get and make a determination after that – but everyone understands this is urgent.”

The commission’s attorney made the request to the clerk, interim city manager and city attorney Thursday, and asked about the process of getting an extension from the City Council. Jessica Grondin, a city spokesperson, said staff are reviewing the request. “We hope to get an answer back quickly because we know this has a big part to play in their timeline and no one is trying to hold them up,” she said.

Mayor Kate Snyder said Thursday that she wasn’t aware of the request but an extension is possible under state law. Snyder noted that a charter commission in 2010 requested and received additional time.

“I think I would be inclined to give them the extension if that’s what they need to do the work. …” Snyder said. “Ultimately we want the best work and the best recommendations possible.”

The commission’s proposed 12-person civilian police review board would be able to receive community complaints about the police department, review findings of internal affairs investigations and make policy recommendations.

David Singer, a spokesperson for the Portland Police Department, said Thursday evening that he had forwarded a question to command staff about whether the police department has a position on the proposal but had not yet received an answer.

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The commission heard about a half hour of public comment before its vote Wednesday. Some people expressed their support. Others wanted the board to be able to do more to hold police accountable or thought that 12 people on the board was too many. One resident asked how the board would be funded. The proposal does not include an estimate of what it would cost.

KEY CHANGES TO REVIEW BOARD

Kenneth Lewis, who is a member of the current Police Citizen’s Review Subcommittee but spoke as an individual, said he appreciates that the proposed board would work with the council, not the city manager.

“Providing information directly to chief policymakers as opposed to through gatekeepers, I think, is an important change for the public as well as for the work so recommendations can be vetted,” he said. “That part of this recommendation is important and I am a full supporter of it.”

Unlike the existing subcommittee, the new board would get citizen complaints directly, instead of after they went to police department internal affairs. The board would be able to make policy recommendations directly to the mayor and council. The council also would be authorized to create an appeals process for complaints. Some of the membership requirements that exist for the current subcommittee under city ordinance would no longer apply.

Any Portland resident over the age of 18 could serve on the new board, whose members would be appointed by the mayor, council and “community chairs,” proposed elected officials representing smaller districts than the council. The creation of community chairs is being looked at separately by the charter commission. If the commission doesn’t end up recommending community chairs, the appointments they would have made would be made by the council.

Ryan Lizanecz, chair of the commission’s departments committee, which drafted the proposal, said that while finding funding for the board would ultimately be left to the council, the recommendation from the committee represents a financially conservative approach to police oversight that “will give our existing (subcommittee) some teeth.”

Lizanecz said there may be some changes to the proposal when the formal language goes before the commission. He said commissioners have discussed reducing the number of board members and debated whether or not stipends for board members, which are in the current proposal, should stay in the final version.

“I can say confidently there will be a police board on the ballot, though this will not be the final language,” he said.


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