As a member of the recently concluded Charter Commission for the city of Portland, I tried to keep Portland voters in the forefront of our work. On Nov. 8, the voters will have a chance to weigh in on the measures we proposed.

There are several other citizen initiatives on the ballot, and the whole may be a little overwhelming for people who don’t follow city government closely. Here is my summary of what the eight commission questions would do and why I urge Portland voters to vote yes.

• A yes vote on the preamble (Question 1) would tighten the language and add a land acknowledgment honoring indigenous tribes who first lived here. The acknowledgment is a small gesture, but not an empty one – acknowledging wrong is a form of reparation.

• A yes vote on governance (Question 2) would give the mayor executive authority; give the City Council power to remove or recall the mayor, and pay the mayor about $120,000, or twice the city’s median household income. Yes on Question 2 would retain the city manager position as chief administrator under the mayor; increase the number of City Council seats from nine to 12 (nine districts and three at-large), and set their stipend at 10 percent of the mayor’s pay ($12,000), as well as increase the number of school board seats to nine and require the City Council to adopt a participatory budgeting ordinance.

Rather than relying on the city manager, the council will have a greater incentive to take an active role in choosing and implementing policy. The mayor, who is responsible to the voters, will have a strong incentive to express and fulfill a vision for the city. More council seats will offer a greater diversity of perspectives.

• A yes vote on clean elections (Question 3) would require the City Council to establish a voluntary clean elections fund to provide public money to qualified candidates for municipal offices. This will make running for office more accessible who don’t have big money to bring to their campaigns.


• I support the next yes vote, even though proportional ranked-choice voting would have resulted in my own election loss.

A yes vote on proportional ranked-choice voting (Question 4) would allow the City Council to establish a proportional ranked-choice voting system in multi-seat elections, such as the 2021 race for charter commission. The current ranked-choice system sets a 50 percent threshold for candidates, no matter how many are running or for how many seats. In multi-seat/multi-candidate races, this proposal would lower that threshold, meaning elected winners would be more likely to reflect the electorate.

• Voting yes on school budgets (Question 5) would give the school committee budget-making authority separate from the City Council. This proposal makes school board members more accountable for their budget and puts budget-making authority in the hands of those who are most knowledgeable about the schools’ needs.

• A yes vote on Peaks Island Council (Question 6) would establish the council as an advisory elected body. It is currently an elected body of the city, but historically has lacked the supports (such as city email accounts) offered to other elected officials. This will further establish the council and add legitimacy to its guidance on issues affecting the island.

• Voting yes on the Civilian Police Review Board (Question 7) would convert the city’s standing Police Citizens Review Subcommittee to a nine-member board with funding and staff support, and a mission to report and render advisory opinions to the City Council. The current subcommittee has an extremely limited purview. The new board will report to the council, not the city manager, and deliver wider-ranging policy advice.

• Finally, a yes vote on the ethics commission (Question 8) would require the City Council to create an advisory independent ethics commission and to adopt a code of ethics that requires written disclosures. It would allow the council to hire an accountability officer and provide staff support for the ethics commission. Until very recently, city leaders did not have to disclose conflicts of interest or follow ethical rules. An ethics commission will advise city leaders on ethical questions and ensure that the ethics code is upheld and updated. The accountability officer will resolve disputes, such as HR matters, to build public trust and avoid costly lawsuits.

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