District Elections

Portlanders have rejected changing our form of government numerous times.  Many in government seem to have interpreted this as permission to continue with business as usual.  I would offer that it is more likely Portlanders are telling government, try to fix what we have before asking us to vote on something new.

The need for community-based representation in Portland is profound.  Feeling as if your government doesn’t understand what is going on where you live or doesn’t seem to care is felt by countless Portlanders in many parts of the City.

Changing to electing City Council members by district has been discussed numerous times as a mechanism to create more community-based representation in our government.  However, having Commissioners in charge of Bureaus and Offices makes that unconstitutional because if your district representative was in charge of Parks, and you had a problem with Transportation, you would not have access to a direct representative — someone you could vote for or against the next time they are up for election.

The need to finding a solution is usually left to those with the biggest need when government is not responsive.  As an East Portland resident for close to 20 years, I understand that need quite well.  I would offer the following as a potential solution:

City Council to be comprised of the Mayor and eight Commissioners.  The Mayor and two Commissioners to be elected city-wide and six Commissioners to be elected by district.  The Mayor would retain the right to appoint Bureau and Office assignments, but must assign at least one city-wide elected Commissioner and two district-elected Commissioners to each Bureau and Office.

Clearly, there are other components to be discussed and addressed.  For example, ensuring Directors of Bureaus and Offices are not hired just to do the bidding of City Council members with oversight of that particular Bureau or Office.  We also need to make sure the institutional knowledge that Directors provide to Portlanders from continued service in the same position is not lost just because a new City Council member is assigned oversight of that office.

The Charter Commission is the best way to thoroughly vet ideas like this as well as other government reforms and it must be seated again by or before January 1, 2021, so the opportunity to begin the public design and vetting is ahead — much sooner, if enough pressure can be placed on City Council to not wait until the last City Council meeting the year before as was done with the 2011 Charter Commission.

For information about the Charter Commission, please see that Position Paper.

This document created by Mark White and made possible by the Mark for Portland 2020 campaign.