Alliance Testifies about Draft Charter Amendments at Public Hearing
Good evening Commissioners,
My name is Amy Rathfelder, and I serve as the Director of Government Affairs for the Portland Business Alliance. The Alliance is Greater Portland’s Chamber of Commerce and represents the largest, most diverse network of employers in the region.
The Alliance has previously testified in support of the high-level elements of the Charter Commission’s proposal to change Portland’s form of government. We recognize that the current package is generally sound; however, in reviewing the specific draft amendments, we have new and serious concerns about details that we hope were simply overlooked. We are concerned that without addressing these omissions you could be asking voters to replace our current dysfunctional form of government with another.
First, it appears under the current draft charter amendments, the City Council would be allowed to have 6-6 tie votes. Additionally, there is no provision for breaking ties and there is no check on the legislative branch (the Council) by the executive branch (the Mayor). The method for addressing this is simple and common in cities throughout the nation – the Commission must grant the Mayor a tiebreaker and veto authority. The Alliance is generally supportive of an expanded Council with twelve seats but only if the Mayor can break ties. Without a tiebreaker power granted to the City executive, a tie vote could be realized regularly, resulting in frequent gridlock; there must be checks and balances. Without veto power with a Council override provision, the current amendments will give too much weight to the legislative branch.
Second, the current proposal appears to group all elected Council members and the Mayor into the same electoral cycle. Under this model, Portlanders would only vote on their Councilors once every four years. Given the direct nature of the job of a municipal leader, it is important to stagger these terms so that residents of our city can have their voices heard on a more frequent basis in terms of who is representing them. Ensuring that a portion of the Council would have their terms staggered is imperative in the overall goal of creating a more transparent, more representative city government for all of Portland.
I want to be clear that the Alliance’s support for these amendments is not final, and the Commission’s willingness to make these commonplace additions will be part of our consideration. We will not support change for change’s sake. The new form of government must be clearly an improvement over the current form, and a council that can operate with no check from the executive branch and be prevented from advancing policy by just half the council, we fear, could be worse than what we currently have.
As we stated the last time we testified, we agree—with the support of studies from groups like the City Club—that Portland’s current form of government is deeply flawed and antiquated, and that the time for change is long overdue. We are deeply appreciative of the Charter Review Commission’s dedication to this work and the time that has been spent developing these recommendations. We are hopeful that we can continue to be supportive, provided these pieces of feedback are taken into serious consideration, and look forward to remaining a collaborative partner to the City of Portland as we work together to create a city and a government that truly works for all of us.