Keep Portland Portland, for the benefit of Oregon

Chris Smith

Ballots are now in hand for the May 15th election, and in Portland that means not just school board races, but the second opportunity in five years for voters to pass judgment on the Commission form of government.

I urge Portlanders to vote NO on Measure 26-91 and retain the Commission form (as voters have done seven times since 1913).

[Full disclosure: I chair - along with former Mayor Bud Clark - one of two campaign committees opposing the measure.]

But why is this of relevance to a statewide forum like this one? Simple: Portland is one of our laboratories for policy innovation in the Oregon, and the Commission form enhances opportunities for innovation. To quote from the excellent City Club report (PDF, 243K) on the measure:

Portland’s commission form of
government encourages innovation by
City Council.
Commissioners have the
ability — through executive control
of their bureaus — to take the lead
in developing and implementing
innovative projects (e.g., Portland
Streetcar, the green building initiative
and a vibrant system of parks). Under
a mayor-council form, only projects
of interest to the mayor would be

Of course there are lots of other reasons to vote NO on 26-91, including the concentration of far too much power under the Mayor (100% of executive authority and 20% of legislative voting power).

Keep Portland Portland, vote NO on Measure 26-91.

  • j_luthergoober (unverified)

    Let me see; city commishes votes for 3x cost for sky tram after mega-millions for water utility billing on one hand; and mayor can't get his arms around a wacked-out police department... heads you lose and tails you lose... which is exactly how Oregonians like it. the State of Portland is as bad as the state of New Hampshire...

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    And can you tell me how any of those would work better under a strong mayor form (our Mayor cast one of the votes for hte Tram funding increase)? It certainly didn't keep the "big dig" in Boston from going several multiples over budget.

    At least with the Water Bureau billing problems, Erik Sten had to stand up and explain himself at the next election. Under 26-91 it would all be buried under a 'chief administrative officer' and we wouldn't have any accountability.

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    Agreed Chris. That very point about Boston and the Big Dig is explicitly what I brought up when speaking with Paul Meyer when he was talking with a group I people which included Bud Clark among others.

    He trotted out the saws about the Big Pipe and the Tram (everyone's favorite whipping boy) and argued that a strong mayor system and the "checks and balances" of the Federal system would be better. All I asked was how, given that Boston has a strong mayor system and with Federal dollars managed to create the most expensive public works project tin American History which is still not done IIRC.

    Waste and mismanagement can fester in any sort of organizational structure. Somehow concentrating power mainly under one position that then delegate that to an unelected position which is shielded via another layer removed from public scrutiny doesn't seem to be a viable argument.

    I certainly respect Paul who has in the past done great work in issues of civil liberties, but it strikes me as a solution in search of a problem, using the whipping boy de jour as a means to gin up a "we have to throw the bath-water out" mentality among the voters.

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    Watching Portland city government is great entertainment - kind of like watching a car wreck or maybe more like watching an unscripted soap opera where all the actors try to get in front of the camera at the same time.

    I would hate to see it change.

  • Michael Wilson (unverified)

    The sad part is that it is on the ballot now. It should have ben held for a November election when the turnout would have been larger. MW

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    I don't think 26-91 is going any farther than the Dallas Mavericks. Nevertheless, our fair city has had more than its share of spendthrift escapades--hell, no one even talks about the PGE Park boondoggle anymore.

    So here's what I suggest for a future ballot measure: instead of strengthening the mayor, give the city auditor more power. Power, that is, to stop egregious white elephant projects that don't pencil out for the city or its citizens. There should be some kind of override mechanism in case the auditor turns out to be a jerk, but otherwise, the auditor has final say on whether the money gets spent.

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    So here's what I suggest for a future ballot measure: instead of strengthening the mayor, give the city auditor more power...the auditor has final say on whether the money gets spent.

    The City Charter already gives the City Auditor the authority to approve every city expenditure made, which is why the Auditor's signature is on every payment that is disbursed. There's a difference, however, between having the authority, and exercising it.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)

    Frank Dufay... amen to that.

    And the charter already gives the mayor the power of exercising administrative authority over all the bureaus if he or she chooses. Tom Potter did just that during his first six months in office.

    I wonder why he isn't crowing about all the efficiencies that were lost when he handed the bureaus back to the commissioners?

    As far as the auditor is concerned, I have in my posession a copy of a letter that was sent to one of my constituents in response to a request that the very first tram overrun be audited. The letter is dated December 18, 2003. In it the auditor states:

    "I understand your concern about the doubling of the estimate, but I do not have the resources to audit as much as I would like of City activities."

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