Learn How City Government Works

Information
A white icon on a patterned brown background. The icon shows a government building with a dome and flag.
Information about the City of Portland history, form of government, elections, Council meetings, and the Council Agenda.
On this page

History

The City of Portland, Oregon was issued a territorial charter in 1851, incorporating 2.1 square miles of forest, stumps and houses. In May 1913, Portland voters narrowly approved a commission form of government.

Commission Form of Government

The City of Portland has the last remaining Commission form of government among large cities in the United States. The Mayor, four Commissioners, and the Auditor are the City's six elected officials. The Mayor and the Commissioners together make up the City Council. The commission form of government differs from most other municipal governments in that its members have legislative, administrative, and quasi-judicial powers:

  • Legislative – The City Council meets weekly to conduct the City's legislative business. The Council adopts the City budget and passes laws, policies, and regulations that govern the City.
     
  • Administrative – The Mayor and Commissioners also serve as administrators of City departments, individually overseeing bureaus and carrying out policies approved by the Council. The Mayor determines department and bureau assignments, which do not necessarily correspond to departmental titles. (For example, the Commissioner of Public Works may not necessarily have any of the public works bureaus in their portfolio).
     
  • Quasi-Judicial – Council members also act in a quasi-judicial capacity when hearing land-use and other types of appeals.

City Elections

All City Elected Officials are elected at large on a non-partisan basis and serve four-year terms. Elections are staggered, with the Mayor and Commissioners in position 1 and position 4 elected one year and the Auditor and Commissioners in position 2 and position 3 elected two years later. The staggered election schedule avoids a complete change of elected officials in any one year, except under unusual circumstances. City and State law give Portland citizens the ability to initiate legislation through the initiative petition process or to refer legislation passed by the City Council to a vote of the people through the referendum petition process. Contact the City Elections office with questions about City elections at elections@portlandoregon.gov.

Council Meeting Dates

City Council holds regular weekly meetings on Wednesday at 9:30 am. If there is sufficient business, additional meetings are held Wednesday and Thursday at 2:00 pm or 6:00 pm. City Council also meets as needed for work sessions, executive sessions, and other notable meetings where information is presented to and discussed by Council but no legislative action is taken. Learn more about work sessions and other notable meetings.

Council Agenda

The Council agenda, which lists all items to be considered by the Council at each session, is available to the public by 9:00 a.m. on the Friday before the Council meetings. The agenda is posted on the Council Clerk website. It is also published in the Daily Journal of Commerce. 

Items on the Agenda

Types of Agenda Items

  • Ordinances – Ordinances are formal documents which carry the binding force of law and are passed by the Council in accordance with rules set forth in the City Charter. Two kinds of ordinances, emergency and non-emergency, appear on the agenda.
     
    • Emergency ordinances– Emergency ordinances are designated on the agenda by an asterisk preceding the title and public testimony is heard. A unanimous vote with at least four Council members present is required to pass an emergency ordinance.
       
    • Non-emergency ordinances – Non-emergency ordinances come before Council twice and go into effect 30 days after being passed by Council. Public testimony is taken only at the first reading and the vote is taken at the second reading. Three affirmative votes are needed to pass a non-emergency ordinance.
       
  • Resolutions – A resolution usually establishes Council policy or directs certain administrative actions. Resolutions allow public testimony, require only one reading, and require three affirmative votes to be adopted. 
     
  • Reports – Reports provide information, transmit other documents, and/or make recommendations. Reports are commonly used to approve bids and the completion of contracts, make appointments to boards or commissions, and make recommendations. Public testimony is taken on reports.
     
  • Quasi-Judicial Proceedings – Special rules apply to land use appeals, which are quasi-judicial in nature and are conducted in accordance with Oregon State statutes and City Code provisions. Those rules are stated in the hearing notification and at the beginning of the session.
     
  • Communications – Members of the public may sign up in advance for a Communication spot on the agenda to address Council for three minutes about a topic of their choosing. Communications are the first item heard at the Wednesday morning meeting and there are five spots available.
     
  • Proclamations - The Mayor's Office issues proclamations to individuals and organizations seeking recognition of events, awards, remembrances, and occasions that are of value or otherwise significant to the City or to Portlanders. Testimony is not heard and no Council action is taken on proclamations.
     
  • Presentations - Items sponsored by a Council member on behalf of a community organization to announce an event or highlight a group are presentations. Testimony is not heard and no Council action is taken on presentations.
     

Sections of the Agenda

  • Time Certain – When an important and high-interest item is scheduled, it may be designated "Time Certain." Such matters are not heard before the stated time but may begin later if other business takes longer than planned. View upcoming confirmed Time Certain items.
     
  • Consent Agenda – To expedite Council business, routine items are placed on a Consent Agenda which is passed without discussion and with a single, unanimous vote of approval by at least four Council members. To testify during the meeting on a resolution, report, emergency or first reading of an ordinance on the Consent Agenda, contact the Council Clerk to pull the item for discussion before the meeting begins.
     
  • Regular Agenda - Items where a presentation is planned and Council discussion is anticipated are placed on the Regular Agenda. Items are read and voted on individually. Testimony is heard on resolutions, reports and first readings of ordinances.

If you have any questions about how you may participate in the governmental process, please do not hesitate to contact the Council Clerk's office at councilclerk@portlandoregon.gov

Upcoming Events

Available Online
Available Online

Past Events

Available Online
Available Online
Available Online
Available Online