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 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 10, years the City Council appoints 20 Portlanders to the Charter Commission to review the Charter and recommend amendments.
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 embedded in the Charter.
Why is the Commission active now?
The Charter establishes that, at least every 10 years, a Charter Commission shall be appointed. The previous commission was appointed on December 15, 2010. To comply with the requirement, City Council appointed members to a new Charter Commission in December 2020.
How were Charter Commission members selected?
Nearly 300 people responded to the City's call for Charter Commission applicants, answering questions about their interest, their experience and how they would approach the work. When selecting Commissioners, City Council officials looked for candidates with diverse perspectives who have experience championing community needs.
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. 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 is expected from Commission members?
Charter Commissioners are appointed for two-year terms. Commissioners will work to engage the community in a conversation about Portland's Charter and how it can best serve the community. Commission members can expect to spend between five and 12 hours per month spread throughout meetings, research and outreach. At a minimum, Commissioners willparticipate 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 14 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.
What is the timeline for the Charter review process?
The Charter Commission was appointed in December 2020 and started organizing their review process in early 2021. Charter Commission members are appointed to two-year terms. It is up to them to establish a timeline for reviewing the Charter and issuing recommendations.
How are you working to ensure that the process is open and accessible to the public?
Charter Commission meetings are 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 to providing the Charter Commission with the resources necessary to engage the community and make meaningful recommendations for 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.
Read the Portland Charter
Review the City Charter as we consider possible updates for the future.