Charter Reform: Improving Access for Disenfranchised Communities

By Nichole Maher of Portland, Oregon. Nichole is the Executive Director of the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA Family Center) and was a member of Portland's Charter Review Commission.

I am proud to say I served on the Citizen’s Charter Review Commission, because I believe our proposed reform of Portland’s government will increase access for our communities of color and disenfranchised Portland communities.

As it currently stands, commissioners spend as much as 75 percent of their time doing bureau business. That leaves 25 percent to engage with citizens and plan for the future of Portland.

We are recommending a system that will increase access for all by providing our elected officials with more time to dialogue with citizens and to learn from each of us about our concerns and our dreams for our city.

The proposed system improvement will also make it easier for us to go to them. Instead of each commissioner being responsible for and limited to specific bureaus, the proposed form will give us five--yes five--commissioners to advocate for us regarding issues with any bureau. Each commissioner (and the mayor) advocates for the entire city of Portland.

The current system creates a disparity between insiders well versed in city hall navigation, and common community members. This creates equity issues where Portland’s elite are able to effectively advocate for their issues, and citizens experiencing poverty or marginalization are left without a voice.

Although I have been advocating for the Native American community for the past six years- working very hard to advocate for an improved quality of life for our population, I continue to struggle with the complicated and outdated form of government. There are many people in this city who do not have the resources or time to learn this complicated and inefficient system. It really shouldn’t be that hard, but it is.

Our proposed form of government also grants all residents an additional opportunity for access and advocacy that doesn’t currently exist. It is written into the proposed charter that a citizen can be part of a council-level committee to develop policy, as long as a commissioner chairs that committee. That means you could work right along side a commissioner developing policy for affordable housing in Portland. I truly believe that this type of community engagement will result in the best solutions for Portland.

Portlanders deserve a government that is easily accessible for all of its residents. Portland has a tradition of citizen involvement, but not everyone has felt welcome at the table. We have an opportunity to take a great city and make it even better. We can vote YES on measures 26-89,90,91, and 92. We are fortunate to have many exceptional leaders serving in our commission form of government- that truly care about the citizens of this community. I believe by freeing up commissioners to work more closely with the communities of Portland the entire city will benefit.

Comments

  • Oscar (unverified)
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    Of course, all the great access and connection with the community that the city council will develop under the strong mayor system will generate policies that will be greeted with open arms by the business interests that will buy the mayor. For a primer on who will really run the city under the strong mayor system, check the list of contributors to the strong mayor campaign.

  • Jesse B. (unverified)
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    Couldn't one argue that the 75% of the time spent on "bureau business" could include planning for Portland's future? I'd like to think that in running City bureaus, our commissioners are planning for Portland's future.

    City vehicles using biodiesel, preserving and maintaining affordable housing units, these sound like bureau plans for the future.

  • Jillian Detweiler (unverified)
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    Like Nichole Maher, I too served on the Charter Review Commission, but I was among 7 members who voted against the proposal. I believe the proposal reached by 13 members of the commission to demote our City Council and to centralize power in the Mayor’s office is the wrong direction.

    Maher points to the unusual characteristic of the Commission form of government: the Council sets City policy and Council members have take responsibility for the implementation of policy as the leaders of the City Bureaus assigned to them by the Mayor. This does a number of things: First, Council members establish leadership and expertise in the area of their bureau assignment. And second, they are accountable for the implementation of policy and the delivery of city services. This keeps them in touch with citizens about things we really care about. The Commissioner in Charge of PDOT knows where there are speeding issues. The Parks Commissioner hears about where garbage cans need to be emptied more frequently or from neighborhoods that are park deficient. And because the performance of those bureaus becomes the measure of the Commissioner’s performance, they do something about it. I think it’s appropriate—even refreshing—that Commissioners are engaged in the City services tax payers expect.

    If the strong-mayor proposal passes, we’ll trade real service for lip service. Commissioner’s can respond to citizens issues by creating new policy or reacting to the Mayor’s budget. But when there’s a pedestrian safety issue in your neighborhood, do you want policy or a crosswalk? Stripped of their bureau responsibilities, newly emasculated Commissioners will only be able to offer the promise of getting the crosswalk into the next budget process.

    Issues important to minority communities risk neglect, or worse, if the strong-mayor proposal passes. While Commissioner-in-Charge of the Fire Bureau, Charlie Hales created an apprenticeship program that significantly increased the access of women and minorities to firefighter jobs. Under the strong-mayor proposal, the Fire Chief will report to a new head bureaucrat, the Chief Administrative Officer. It will be much more difficult to create change when a new layer of bureaucracy stands between our elected officials and city agencies.

    The mayor and CAO will have extraordinary power. With a vote on the Council, the mayor will control 20% of the legislative agenda and his CAO will supervise, hire and fire all of the bureau managers. The mayor will appoint the members of the planning commission, the design review board, the sustainability commission and so on. Today, big business and others who fund political campaigns have to make nice with five council members. Under the strong-mayor form, only one office will really matter. That’s too much power in one place.

    Vote no on 26-91!

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    The current system creates a disparity between insiders well versed in city hall navigation, and common community members. This creates equity issues where Portland’s elite are able to effectively advocate for their issues, and citizens experiencing poverty or marginalization are left without a voice.

    Is this why businesses and developers are dumping contributions of $1,000 or $5,000 or even $10,000 into th coffers of Team Potter in order to pass the proposal?

  • Dave Lister (unverified)
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    Considering proposed bans on trans fat, spray paint and smoking on golf courses the last thing I want is for the commissioners to have more time for legislating.

  • PeteJacobsen (unverified)
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    I'm glad to have Jillian's information that the vote of the commission was 13-7. I was under the impression the commission was in agreement. Why the heck was it so important to put these proposals before voters w/o any attempt to fix some of the obvious flaws if the commission itself was so split?

  • Jeeves (unverified)
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    b!X | May 7, 2007 11:28:53 AM

    Is this why businesses and developers are dumping contributions of $1,000 or $5,000 or even $10,000 into th coffers of Team Potter in order to pass the proposal?

    And unions have contributed $215K to Weiner PAC. Special interests on both sides are contributing money.

    This post looks like it is more about access to government for the average person.

    And since "big" business supported the schools levy or the parks levy or the fire & police pension/disability reform - do these things suddenly become bad just because of that support?

    Really - under any system big business, big labor - they'll always have access. They'll know who to call when to get what they need.

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    To be clear. The 13-7 vote was an earlier vote on November 2. The final actual vote in January was 12-4.

    For what it's worth, read this, as well as the earlier item it links to.

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    And unions have contributed $215K to Weiner PAC. Special interests on both sides are contributing money.

    Yes, except when opponents say "special interests" they explain what they mean. When Team Potter says it, they leave it hanging out there for the voter to fill in their preferred bogeyman, and delay for as long as the law allows reporting who is giving them money (opponents file nearly immediately).

    Why do you think that is?

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    So centralizing power under the auspices of an unelected positon appointed by one elected offical (i.e. the mayor) will improve "access"...?

  • Dave Porter (unverified)
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    I have not made up my mind on this issue. I am leaning for it for the following reason. I care about one big issue: making Portland the US city most connected to China through its educational programs. The current mayor and city council do not yet understand this issue, much less see their important leadership roles. I am thinking that perhaps they are so focused on the problems of their assigned bureaus that they do not see the big picture coming at them (the growth of China's economy and China becoming our rival superpower). Perhaps a legilative type body would do this better (but do not yet look to the Oregon Legislature as an positive example. They do not get it yet either). Maybe there are other issues that also get passed over because they are not in the jurisdiction on one bureau.

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    ...do not yet look to the Oregon Legislature as an positive example. They do not get it yet either.

    So, in other words, a form of government with a split executive/legislative setup ISN'T guaranteed to make what you want happen.

    Is it worth jettisoning what we have in favor of a FLAWED bastardization of "strong mayor" for that lack of guarantee?

  • Jeeves (unverified)
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    Yes, except when opponents say "special interests" they explain what they mean.

    I'm still confused - is school and park funding or doing a temporary fix for a bankrupting pension system a bad thing? Are they only bad because they are funding this proposal?

    Most people probably call the Mayor when they have a problem - who can't help them as much with bureaus he doesn't run, right? Won't this give people to option of getting something done on their specific problem - and if the bureau management blows them off still be able to petition all the Council members about it.

    I find it hard to believe that if 3 or 4 Commissioners are going to bat for a Portlander that the Mayor and managers can ignore that.

  • raul (unverified)
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    From Dave Porter- //I care about one big issue: making Portland the US city most connected to China through its educational programs//

    That is your one big issue? OK, pal- whatever you say, China being the open and democratic type of country that we love to do business with.

    Any public employee ( yep, the mayor is one ) that advocates for more power, unchecked power at that, does not pass the smell test to me.

    I like the response and service I get from our City Council members, some more than others. Running bureaus is what a CC should do, not cutting ribbons and pressing flesh. This access the author is referring to: does that mean that our CCs will have to ask the mayor to ask his city manager ( unelected city manager ) to get us our speedbump?

    This article is specious, and the logic is tortured. And why is a person who represents the interests of another sovereign nation on the Commission Review Board?

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    I'm still confused - is school and park funding or doing a temporary fix for a bankrupting pension system a bad thing? Are they only bad because they are funding this proposal?

    Two things. First, while overwhelmingly one-sided funding from one type of special interest isn't a guarantee that something it fishy, it's a fairly reliable indicator.

    Second, I would have to go back and look at who ELSE contributed to those other issues. It's entirely possible, for example, that both business AND labor backed the parks levy. I don't know this, as I said, I'm just saying that if that were the case, it's a distinctly different situation than the one-sided business and developer funding of Team Potter.

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    It's entirely possible, for example, that both business AND labor backed the parks levy.

    And in fact this is the case. Campaign contributions in 2002 to pass the parks levy ranged from business to non-profits to communtiy organizations to labor unions.

    That sort of wide spectrum is distinctly different from what we're discussing here, where one side -- Team Potter -- is funded ovrwhelmingly by business and developers.

    In the real world, that's not something that can simply be dismissed as a non-factor. They think they're going to GET something useful just to THEM out of Curiously-Strong Mayor.

  • littlevoice (unverified)
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    The last thing we need is to free up the commissioners so that the ONLY thing they are doing is passing legislation. I think it's kind of nice to keep them busy with actually running the bureaus so that they stay a little grounded. Can you imagine how much more informed the state or federal legislatures would be if they actually had to run the agencies that they make policies for?!?! Keep Portland Portland.

  • Karin (unverified)
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    Rembember the supporters of Bob Ball's measure to change the form of government to a "strong mayor" form in 2002? What's that all about????

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    Rembember the supporters of Bob Ball's measure to change the form of government to a "strong mayor" form in 2002?

    The bulk of the contributors listed in the Good Government Committee's C&E reports, like in the current case, are businesses and developers.

    There is an appearance in there by AFSCME, although for a paltry (compared to many of the corporate/developer contributions) $500. Melvin Mark, Jr. alone seems to have contributed something near $40,000 to that campaign.

  • Karin (unverified)
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    And I forgot to say...That's all? Come on now, b!X. That is a little selective wouldn't you say! Who else is on the list? I said "supporters." That doesn't exlusively mean those who had money to give. Who campaigned for, gave to, or endorsed?

  • karin (unverified)
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    By the way, this discussion has been such a distraction from the issue here. Nichole was talking about improving access for disenfranchised communities.

    I guess if you can't argue, change the conversation.

    By the way, how represented are the communities of color in the oppositions campaign? Not much!

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    Lets remember that the 2002 measure attracted fewer votes in the end than people who signed the petitions to put it on the ballot.

    One dynamic present in 2002 (and missing in the current debate) was neighborhood activism on both sides of the question, due in large part to the 2002 measure including representation by districts. Some neighborhood activists felt having a 'local' representative would give them a stronger champion on Council while others (myself included) felt neighborhoods were better off if all members of Council had to seek votes in their neighborhood.

  • karin (unverified)
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    Still avoiding the answers to my questions.

    How represented are the communities of color in the opposition's campaign?

    Who campaigned for, gave money to, or endorsed Bob Ball's measure to change the form of government in 2002?

  • Karin (unverified)
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    AFSME was already mentioned as a supporter of Bob Ball's strong mayor form of government ballot measure in 2002.

    Who else?...

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    I guess if you can't argue, change the conversation.

    Excuse me, but that's what YOU'VE been doing.

    The argument here in the comments had been: JUst how much access does one think disenfranchised communities will have under a form that's overwhelmingly bankrolled by interests which are oftn antithetical to disenfranchised communities, and who would not be bankrolling the effort unless they thought they were going to get something out of it.

    You and others changed the subject by bringing up campaigns where those monied interests supported something that the other side support as well -- which is apples and oranges.

    If you want to stick to the subject, Karin, answer this: Just what do you think big business and local developers think they are going to get out of Curiously-Strong Mayor? And do you think their interests align with disenfranchised communities?

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    How represented are the communities of color in the opposition's campaign?

    How represented are they in yours? You've got Harold Williams, but he keeps talking about how we SHOULDN'T see him as some sort of representative of communities of color, but instead just as a businessman.

    (Which is fine, I'm just saying.)

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    To directly answer Karin's question, Jo Ann Bowman is a member of the opposition committee and Oregon Action took out a voter pamphlet statement opposing 26-91.

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    You know, I can't escape the feeling that this campaign has really jumped the shark if proponents of Curiously-Strong Mayor have managed to turn it into a bunch of white people sitting around trying to show who has more black friends.

  • Jeeves (unverified)
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    a bunch of white people sitting around trying to show who has more black friends.

    I don't think communities of color are just "black friends" at all.

    I notice that this post was done by Nichole Maher from NAYA - which deals with Native American youth. I'd call them at the very least marginalized by the current political process in Portland. Then, doing some research, you find that Gail Castillo is also part of the pro-side campaign. Hispanics don't seem to be over represented in the City of Portland's politics.

    As for JoAnn B - good for you Chris! It's great to see that you've done outreach to the African American community. Have you spoken to the community? I know that you debated Robert Ball at the City Club - but have you guys made it out to the community to speak to them?

    Really - this whole debate should be about hearing the voices in the community and speaking to them.

    Instead, all I see are people complaining about where the money is coming from.

    And here I thought at Blue Oregon ya'll were about the issues and the politics. Politics are more than just money folks.

  • karin (unverified)
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    I think I struck a nerve.

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    And here I thought at Blue Oregon ya'll were about the issues and the politics. Politics are more than just money folks.

    Of course politics is more than money. However, politics also includes the influence of money, and when funding of a campaign is rather dramatically one-sided, that's an issue.

    The post at issue, in the end, is an argument in favor of Curiously-Strong Mayor, on the premise that it would permit disenfranchised communities greater access. The counter-argument is hardly an invalid one: If the proposal would grant more access to the disenfranchised, then why are entities which frequently are the ones disenfranchizing people dumping their money into Team Potter's campaign for the proposal?

    That question isn't a distraction or a change of subject. It goes directly to what this post was about: Would the disenfranchised have greater access under Curiously-Strong Mayor?

    And, Karin, the only nerve that's been stuck, over here at least, is the one that's damned sick and tired of your side in this campaign demagoguing everywhere. That is, when you're not just showing that you don't know what the Hell you're talking about. You tried to bring in Bob Ball's 2002 campaign, only to have it explained to you what the differences were -- explanations to which you've yet to respond.

    You hit the nail on the head earlier, Karin: "I guess if you can't argue, change the conversation."

    That's all your side ever does, and it's all you've done in this thread. But with the corrolary: "When you attempted change of conversation is shown to be irrelevant, pretend you never said anything."

  • Jeeves (unverified)
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    and when funding of a campaign is rather dramatically one-sided, that's an issue.

    Yes - it's dramatically one-sided. Unions are bankrolling one side - business the other side. Looking at the two, however, I see that at least the pro-side has those contributions under $100. On the "no" side there is only Len Bergstein's outfit which has given $500. That's the smallest contribution they've taken.

    But we get back to the point - the post was about the issues, not the money.

    I read your post on parklands - and it is very nuanced. I haven't seen that in the mail that has come to me. It says plainly the Mayor can sell parklands without a vote by Council. It doesn't say "the Mayor can sell parklands with out two votes by Council and with only 3 instead of 4 votes" which seems to be the point in your column.

    So the demagoguing argument falls flat. It looks like a campaign.

    I heard Chris Smith asked when he was debating Bob Ball (I have to listen to City Club on the radio)if he had been to any of the Charter Commission's meetings. He mentioned that it was one or maybe two. How about you? Why not be involved in the process instead of angry about the outcome?

    I did get to see several episodes of the Charter commission's meetings - and it seemed like they were serious people who were committed to the process. That the votes on the recommendations were not unanimous speaks to this commission being more than a rubber stamp.

  • karin (unverified)
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    b!X, I want you to know I am not backing off because I don't have the answers to your questions. I am backing off because I think your are out of line and rude. I refuse to engage in your tactics. Karin

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    Keep in mind that there are two NO campaigns. Bud Clark and I chair the Committee for Accountable City Government, raising about $5K (with no contributions over $1000 and many in the $50-100 range) in order to get the ISSUES out in the voter pamphlet and in other forums.

  • Jeeves (unverified)
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    Posted by: Chris Smith | May 8, 2007 4:28:05 PM

    Keep in mind that there are two NO campaigns. Bud Clark and I chair the Committee for Accountable City Government...

    But then you have Bud doing his robotic message calls and on the radio - and it seems to me that your campaign hasn't raised the money to do that. It seems disingenuous to say there are two campaigns - there are two committees.

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    It's correct that Bud recorded both robocalls and a radio ad for the other committee. What can I say - he's a great spokesman :-)

    Two committees with the same goal cooperating? That's hardly a surprise.

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    I am backing off because I think your are out of line and rude. I refuse to engage in your tactics.

    What's actually rude is your side's tactics of lying, demogoguery, and often not knowing what the Hell you're talking about.

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    I read your post on parklands - and it is very nuanced. I haven't seen that in the mail that has come to me.

    You're absolutely right, and I've called them out on it. But it's pretty much the only place where the con side pulls that kind of crap. On the pro side, its a matter of routine. That's a difference WITH a distinction.

    Why not be involved in the process instead of angry about the outcome?

    Believe me, the one issue that I regret being unable to cover in depth because I shuttered Communique and went back to a life where I (1) wasn't rgularly exposed to the rantings of demogogues and (2) made a living is Charter review.

    That aside, your assertion is bogus. That one person or the other wasn't involved every step of the way in a process hardly means they are disqualified from speaking up about it. If that were true, what would be the point of, say, asking for the voters to weigh in at all? They weren't at every meeting either, and yet now they get, potentiall, to be "angry about the outcome".

    That the votes on the recommendations were not unanimous speaks to this commission being more than a rubber stamp.

    Read all the minutes, as I have. Of both the full Commission and the FoG subcommittee. There were fairly evident machinations at work to get past, for example, "modified commission" as quickly as possible and get down to the work they were there for: Outright change.

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