One acre, one vote. That's not democracy.

By Brian Stipak of Portland, Oregon. Brian is a professor of public administration in the Mark Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.

Every citizen has an equal vote in national elections -- "One Person, One Vote". But in the Multnomah County Drainage District it's "One Acre, One Vote".

Bridgeton Neighborhood residents earlier this year tried to elect a local resident to the supervisors of Peninsula Drainage District No. 2 by attending the meeting for that election. Although we were a majority in attendance, we had but one vote each and were easily out-voted by several people (non-residents, I believe) casting hundreds of votes representing businesses owning hundreds of acres.

What consequences results from such undemocratic process?

In the current controversy about tree-cutting in the Bridgeton Neighborhood, the District supervisors and staff ignore the voices of the local residents.

If you have not followed this controversy, you can follow it at the Bridgeton Neighborhood Association and at Lynn Dorman's Bridgeton blog

The State Legislature needs to change this undemocratic "one acre, one vote" governance that robs people who live in a neighborhood of representation on a local agency affecting the livability and safety of that neighborhood.

State Representative Tina Kotek has taken the lead in trying to correct this lack of representation of local residents, and she deserves our support.

  • Josh Townsley (unverified)

    The reason we have one vote/one acre is due to benefits. I manage the Sauvie Island Drainage District. MCDD was set up the same way as ours. As farmers needed their land drained for crop cultivation, it was set up by the courts that the farmers received a greater benefit with each acre. Not only do they have more votes, but they also pay by the acreage. MCDD may be different as they have changed to an impervious surface assessment methodology versus our Acreage/Elevation model. However, big businesses with large parking lots and roofs are still paying a ton more than 1/4 acre home lots.

  • (Show?)

    That arrangement still sounds completely illegal under Baker v. Carr.

    And why should "businesses" have a vote at all? Votes are for citizens. Individuals.

    Has this never been challenged in court?

  • Pat (unverified)

    I believe these people who vote on the PEN2 have a conflict of interest.

    They are ALL about big business and they don't consider actual facts. They don't even know what FEMA requires. They don't know the true facts. The board is being given ERRONEOUS INFORMATION.


    Some in this drainage district area have been getting erroneous information relating to the Bridgeton Levee. Here is some information directly from FEMA. [ I have added emphasis on the points most often misinterpreted. ]

    In order to help you further understand the levee documentation, attached are some Fact Sheet FEMA has produced regarding the National Flood Insurance Program and levees. The main points to take from it are:

    · FEMA Mapping Process

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) maintenance correction period ends June 11, 2008 and the preliminary FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are scheduled to be released in September 2008. FEMA will produce the preliminary FIRMs showing the current status of the levee (certified or not).

    · Insurance

    Regardless of the levee certification status, flood insurance will continue to be made available. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements for federally backed loans in the Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) are related to effective maps. If a homeowner purchases flood insurance before the new maps become effective, the rating will be based on the map currently in effect when the building was constructed. This is known as “grandfathering.” I have attached a “Grandfathering Newsletter” to help you further understand this process.

    · Disaster Assistance

    Because the City of Portland participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the certification status of the levee (certified or not) does not affect your community’s ability to obtain FEMA disaster assistance. If a federally declared disaster occurs, disaster assistance will continue to be made available.

    Posted by Lynn Dorman, Ph.D. at 12:35 PM


  • Josh Townsley (unverified)

    Businesses are landowners- thats why they vote. You have to think of it as membership voting rights, not democratic voting rights. For instance my organization is actually reorganized as a 501c4 under ORS 554. When Measure 5 created the tax compression problems the state created a statute enabling water and drainage districts to reorganize as improvement companies. We are therefore technically a membership nonprofit of sorts. Members vote by "shares" or in our case acres. Penn 2 is not reorganized, although Sandy Improvement Company is. However the voting rules still apply since it is a "special district" as organized in ORS.

  • Anne (unverified)

    This problem is particularly exacerbated in a neighborhood like Bridgeton with relatively high-density row houses and floating homes with little or no acreage.

  • Brian Stipak (unverified)

    Josh Townsley points out that there was a rationale for the original land-based voting system under which the MCDD operates. Yes, but the question is how appropriate is that rationale today. How well does land-based voting fit with our view of democracy?

    Josh finds the argument persuasive that because bigger landowners pay more property taxes they deserve more votes. I wonder if because he pays more federal income taxes than me (if he does) he thinks therefore that he deserves to cast more votes for President?

  • (Show?)

    I will have to side with my former professor here, and thrilled to be back on Stephanie's side. This method of voting is outdated, absurd and it should be fixed.

    (Plus you get kudos for the succinct post!)

  • Carol Emory (unverified)

    TPen2 was formed in 1917. At the time, the subject area was largely farmland threaded by sloughs, slaughterhouses, a horse ranch. Land reclamation was the owners' benefit. Fast forward 90 years: dense residential districts, transport companies, shopping centers, retail stores and commercial enterprises, asphalt parking lots, Delta Park, a golf course, key trucking arteries such as Marine Drive, a school for special needs children, inter alia, occupy the land. T"Benefits" (or detriments) to these constituents cannot be measured by the acre. Modern metrics include lives and homes, roadbed safety for hazardous materials transport, competent geotechnical engineering and construction methods for structures and excavations. Yet Pen2, with overriding powers affecting livability and safety, answers to no one except the larger landowners south of Marine Drive. It was thoughtful and intelligent for Sauvie Island to follow ORS 554 which enabled water and drainage districts to reorganize as "improvement companies". A "membership nonprofit" 501(c)(4) entity, does not have shareholders as such, but rather members. All members get to vote. 5% of voting members can call a special meeting. Officer and board roles are delineated in Bylaws. Standards of conduct are set by statute. Judicial oversight can be invoked. Pen2 has no such oversight. It delegated all operations in 1997 to the Multnomah County Drainage District. MCDD ostensibly reports to the Pen2 Supervisors but in reality filters the information flow in and out. What is troubling about the Pen2 structure is its ability to tax yet ignore the homeowners. While the commercial landowners may benefit by the acre with effective flood control, residents on the levee itself are in the direct path of Pen2 and MCDD's disregard. TTTTTTT

  • Victoria Taft 5-8pm AM 860 KPAM THE TALK STATION (unverified)
    <h2>[Off-topic comment deleted. -editor.]</h2>
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