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About the Charter Commission

Learn more about the Charter Commission's process and how to stay engaged. If you have additional questions, please email CharterReview2020@portlandoregon.gov.

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What is a City Charter?

A charter is a founding document of a City that establishes the governing system and structure.

Generally, Portland’s Charter defines the powers of the City as granted by the state, the municipal powers and organization of the City Council, the roles and responsibilities of the Mayor, City Commissioner, and the Auditor. It details the procedures for elections, initiatives, referendum and recall elections, campaign finance, and how vacancies are filled. It also provides a guide on how the City is managed, the way taxes are levied and bonds are issued, how the streets, parks, sewers and other infrastructure are managed and improved, the powers of the Portland Development Commission (Prosper Portland), the powers of the Portland Police and  Fire Disability and Retirement Fund and how to amend the Charter.

What is the Charter Commission?

At least once every ten years the City Council appoints 20 Portlanders to the Charter Commission. The purpose of the Charter Commission is to review and recommend amendments to the Charter.

The Charter Commission is an independent body that sets its own scope of work. The City Council may request that the Charter Commission review specific sections of the Charter, but ultimately it is up to the Commission to decide what to address. In the past, charter review has considered larger questions of policy as well as operational issues imbedded in the Charter.

Why is the Commission being appointed now?

This is the second Commission to be appointed under the Charter requirement to seat a Commission. The Charter establishes that periodically, but no less frequently than every ten years, a Charter Commission shall be appointed. The previous commission was appointed on December 15, 2010. To comply with the Charter requirement, City Council must appoint a Charter Commission by December 15, 2020. 

If I am not on the Commission, how can I be involved?

Serving as a member of the Charter Commission is not the only way to be involved in charter review. The Commission will engage the community in a conversation about the Charter over the next two years. There will be plenty of opportunities for Portlanders to communicate their ideas about Charter reform. In addition, we are considering more formal ways for non-Charter Commissioners to be involved including the possibility of non-Charter Commissioners serving on Charter Commission workgroups. That decision will be made by the Charter Commission itself.

What will be expected from Commission members?

Charter Commissioners are appointed for two-year terms.  Commissioners will work to engage the community in a conversation about our Charter and how it shapes our work. Commission members can expect to spend between five and 12 hours per month spread throughout meetings, research and outreach. At a minimum, Commissioners will participate in monthly meetings, read reports and other materials to prepare, and potentially attend smaller group or subcommittee meetings.

What if the Charter Commission recommends changes to the Charter?

Commission members will present recommendations to the City Council. If recommendations require voter approval, they can be referred to the ballot. Administrative changes can be made without voter approval.

Recommendations from the Commission that have the support of 15 members, or more, are referred to the ballot for Portlanders to vote on by the City Council. Recommendations from the Commission that have support of 12 members, but not 15 can be referred by the City Council. In addition, the City Council can refer amendments to the charter to the voters.  

When will this work begin?

The Charter Commission will be appointed this fall and begin work no later than January of 2021.

How are you working to ensure that the process is open and accessible to the public?

Charter Commission meetings will be open to the public and have time allocated for public testimony. In addition, the Charter Commission will engage in a community conversation over the next two years.

Will this process be affected by the COVID-19 crisis?

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis will be felt by our city for years, and it is hard to predict when we will return to normal operations. Despite the barriers the COVID-19 crisis might present, the City of Portland is committed in assembling the Charter Commission and providing them the resources necessary to engage the community and make meaningful recommendations to the way the City does business.

Here are some of the changes City Council will enact to ensure community members are safe and supported during the pandemic and its aftermath:

  • Hold Commission meetings virtually. If members prefer to meet in person, the City of Portland will provide a space that allows for Commission members to maintain physical distance.
  • Provide a stipend of $500 to Commission members every fiscal year in lieu of childcare, transportation and food that would have been provided under regular circumstances.

What happened with the last Charter Commission?

In December 2011, the previous Charter Commission voted to submit nine housekeeping amendments to the voters at the May 2012 Primary Election. You can read their report to Council below.

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