Digest: Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Portland city charter commission proposes new government structures

The commissioners responsible for updating Portland’s city charter held a preliminary vote on March 31 on changes to city government. All twenty members of the Portland City Charter Review Commission voted in favor of the moderate changes, including:

  • Using ranked choice voting in city elections, which will allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference (as opposed to our current winner-take-all system)
  • Create four districts in the city which will each elect three members, for a total of 12 city councilors (rather than electing each city council member in a city-wide election)
  • Reducing the mayor’s powers and adding a professional city administrator

All three changes are in line with the commission’s goal to make Portland’s government more equitable. They would also enable a shift from Portland’s system of bureaus managed by elected officials to a system where the professional city manager would be responsible for coordinating city departments. City councilors would provide oversight and set policy.

Next, the proposals go to the Portland City Attorney’s Office, which will draft amendment language. We should expect to see those draft amendments in early May, after which the charter commission plans to hold a series of public hearings. The commission needs to vote by mid-June in order to put the proposed charter amendments on the November ballot. If at least 15 of the 20 members of the the commission vote for the amendments at that time, those amendments will go straight to the ballot. Otherwise, the amendments will go before the Portland City Council, who can decide to send the amendments to the ballot (with or without changes). Technically, the mayor and the city council have the power to implement several of these changes without a ballot measure, but that seems unlikely, given these changes will dilute the power of individual elected officials.

The charter review commission will now move towards its second phase, with discussions planned on the roles of city agencies (including the City Auditor’s Office and Prosper Portland), campaign finances, voter eligibility, changes to the charter review process itself, and more. One notable absence in potential topics: police accountability, despite the on-going questions of who in Portland’s city government has power to manage each step of existing accountability processes as well as the on-going failure to meet even the low expectations of the U.S. Department of Justice’s consent decree against the Portland Police Bureau. The Multnomah County Charter Review Committee is considering several overlapping topics.

While this move is a promising step towards eliminating Portland’s antiquated system of governance, the city’s voters have voted down seven previous efforts to replace the commission system80% of 622 Portland residents surveyed in March dislike the commission system — the challenge will be changing those numbers into voter turnout. Including surveys, public testimony, and other engagement, roughly 6,000 Portland residents have shared their perspective with the city charter review commission. That’s not quite one percent of the 650,000 Portland residents living under the existing city charter.

Prisoners get class-action status in COVID case

Federal Judge Stacie Beckerman granted class-action status yesterday to Oregon prisoners suing the State of Oregon and individual officials for mishandling COVID-19 in the state’s prisons and jails. Beckerman’s ruling includes two distinct classes: people incarcerated after February 1, 2020 who was diagnosed with COVID and the estates of adults who died in the state’s custody due to COVID. An estimated 45 people have died due to COVID while incarcerated by the State of Oregon, although calculating that number is complicated. Because of the minimal medical care available in Oregon’s carceral system, it’s likely that far more prisoners contracted COVID than were officially diagnosed.

The lawsuit was initially filed in April 2020. As part of the lawsuit’s proceedings, Beckerman ordered the Oregon Department of Corrections to vaccinate state prisoners in the same time frame as other vulnerable populations, describing the state’s failure to do so was “deliberate indifference” to prisoners’ health. Last month, Beckerman also ordered prison officials and corrections officers at Two Rivers Correctional Institution to follow the Oregon Department of Corrections policies on wearing masks in a separate case, but refused to apply the order across all Oregonian prisons and jails. Beckerman also had to issue orders two weeks later against Two Rivers prison staff retaliating against prisoners for her order requiring them to wear masks.

Warm Springs election results

The Confederated Tribes of Warms Springs elected members of its 29th Tribal Council last week with an estimated 1,081 voters submitting ballots. A total of thirty candidates ran for eight positions, with the three candidates receiving the most votes in the Simnasho and Agency Voting Districts and the two candidates receiving the most votes in the Seekseequa Voting District winning the district elections. Three incumbents, Raymond Moody (Simnasho District), Lincoln Jay Suppah (Simnasho District), and Wilson Wewa, Jr. (Seekseequa District) were reelected. New council members will be sworn in on May 9 and their terms will last until 2025.

In addition to the eight elected members of the tribal council, three permanent chiefs lead the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs — one each from the Warm Springs, Wasco, and Paiute tribes.

The members of the 29th Tribal Council are

Simnasho District

• Lincoln Jay Suppah
• Raymond Moody
• Carlos Calica
• Delvis Heath (Warm Springs Chief)

Agency District

• James Manion
• Alvis Smith, III
• Jonathan W. Smith, Sr.
• Alfred Smith Sr. (Wasco Chief)

Seekseequa District

• Rosa Graybael
• Wilson Wewa, Jr.
• Joseph Moses (Paiute Chief)

Key issues facing incoming tribal council members include major infrastructure repairs, low interest in tribal employment, and changing tribal economies.

By Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram founded PDX.Vote after making numerous zines, newsletters, and other media about politics in Portland, Oregon. Thursday has also written for publications ranging from Autostraddle.com to Entrepreneur Magazine. You can find more of Thursday's work at ThursdayBram.com.