Parkrose City Charter debate: Opening statements

IN THEIR OWN WORDS – Read the opening statements made by Portland Mayor Tom Potter and Commissioner Randy Leonard at their April 16 debate regarding Ballot Measure 26-91 …

These opening statements were transcribed from the public discussion held on April 16 at Parkrose High School regarding Ballot Measure 26-91, which amends the City Charter to change the form of city government.

This meeting was sponsored and produced by East Portland neighborhood associations, Central Northeast neighborhood associations, Southeast Uplift, and Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods.

Mayor Tom Potter’s opening statement
“Before we begin, we had a tragedy today in America, at Virginia Tech, and 32 people lost their lives to a gunman and almost 30 people were injured.  What I would like to do, and I would appreciate it if you would join me, is I’m going to stand, and let’s just bow our heads for a moment, to remember those people and their families, and the suffering and tragedy they are going through today.

(Pause)

“Well David [Ashton, the program moderator], I remember when I was running for Mayor, that we spent a lot of time together. You moderated a lot of the debates that I had, and I’m very, very pleased to be here.  I too want to thank Parkrose School District and Parkrose High School in particular for allowing us to use this space, for this forum.

“I want to thank all of you that are here tonight, and that want to find out more information about these reform measures that have been put on the ballot.  They’re very important; and if you just listen to them, (and to David, as articulate and as nice a voice that he has), it can sound kind of boring.  A lot of folks recognize that, but I’ll tell you this much, is that it’s not boring if you live in the city of Portland.

“How many people live in the city of Portland? Well, most everybody in this room has an invested stake in the outcome of this election ‚Äì and it’s an important election.

“Three years ago when David and I were going around on these debates with my opponent, I talked about the need to make sure that city hall is assessable, that city hall is open, that we increase the communication and give citizens more control over their government.

“These four measures do that, and I believe that this is what Portland needs today. I believe that these four measures are going to help Portland. Not just to become the city it is today, but even a better city. We do a lot of things well in our city, and I want to acknowledge that: That we do many things well.

“But there are many things that we don’t do well, and one of them is how we manage the resources that the taxpayers give us.  Their hard-earned tax dollars, your hard earned tax dollars, and the resources that those tax dollars buy.  That’s an important issue, but that’s not the only issue, yes, this system of government does waste money and it is inefficient. But it is also ineffective, in a sense that it could be doing so much more.

“When I was running for Mayor, I had a question that I would also ask myself.  Are the things that go on here that are good ‚Äì our transportation system, recycling, an initiative on sustainability ‚Äì are those things because of the form of government, or in spite of it?  I came to a conclusion in the last two years that those things that make Portland great are in spite of this form of government, not because of it.

“I’ll tell you what the real secret of success in Portland is, and it’s nothing to do with the subject tonight.  The secret to Portland, I believe, is its people!  I believe the form of government should make sure that the people’s dollars are well spent.  I believe that the form of government should be accessible to everyone in all areas of Portland.

“I don’t know where all you folks live; I assume that you are from various parts of Portland.  But you have a stake in the outcome of this election. You can help determine where Portland goes from here.  You can say, “You know, this system has been around for 94 years, it’s tired, it’s outmoded, it’s inefficient and we need a new system”.  And you can do that by voting yes on all four of these measures.

“You can make our city a better city. You can make sure that your children and your grandchildren will have better access to city government because this [new] charter requires it.  The old charter ‚Äì I should say the current charter ‚Äì does not require that.

So, we have some choices to make tonight, and by the 15th of May it will have been decided.  The ballots go out next week and so you’ll have a chance to vote early, or wait right up until the last day, like a lot of folks do.

“But, I ask you to be an informed voter.  I ask you to know the facts.  The facts about this form of government we have, and the new one that’s being proposed. Look to see what’s different; look to see how it does provide for access for citizens, Look to see how it gives citizens control over their government and their community.

“We have a lot of issues to discuss tonight.  I’m really pleased to be here tonight with Commissioner Randy Leonard.  He is a great guy; I really like him; I have a lot of respect for him, and we’ve agreed that we can even disagree on things.  And you know that that’s healthy in a democracy.  Because you can learn things, you can grow from it. I think that a discussion around this charter is good for our community, because people will learn more about how Portland government works and doesn’t work. You can judge for yourself what you think is important for our community and the future of our community.

“I look forward to this discussion, I look forward to your questions, and after the meeting I’ll be glad to stay around and answer any other questions that you may have not wanted to ask at the public forum and I appreciate being here and thank you for letting me be here.”

Commissioner Randy Leonard’s opening statement

“Thank you Parkrose and Portland, and I appreciate Mayor Potter’s opening remarks this evening about the tragedy in Virginia.  I also appreciate very much his kind words to me, and I want to return them.

“Not only am I glad that Tom Potter is Mayor; I hope he runs again, and if he does, I will be out knocking on doors for Tom Potter to win re-election.  But we do differ on this issue; and as Mayor Potter said, the question really isn’t about who is on the city council, whether it’s the city council that he envisions, or the one that exists now.

“It is the people who are Portland.  And because of that, I really think Portland citizens really deserve better then to have one city council hearing ‚Äì one hearing to discuss the language that you are going to be voting on.

“The actual language that you will be voting on was drafted by Mayor Potter after he received the Charter Commission’s recommendations in a report to him, myself, and the rest of the council members.

“The language that you’ll be voting on is not what the Charter Commission drafted. They drafted a report; Mayor Potter and his legal aides drafted the language with absolutely no input from the city council, the public, or even the Charter Review Commission. The language crafted by the mayor is so sweeping and ill-conceived that it would place the city’s oversight auditors under the authority of the Mayor, rather than the city’s independently-elected auditor, Gary Blackmer.

“Is it really a good idea to have an auditor that is supposed to be independent actually working for the person that they are auditing? I don’t think so.

“Additionally, the changes the Mayor drafted will arguably result in those same auditors losing their current civil service protections, leaving them to serve at the pleasure of the mayor. Giving the Mayor the power to hire and fire those that audit city government’s books is too much power for one person to have.

“Mayor Potter will tell you that that was a mistake.  That the language that allows the auditors to work for the Mayor will be fixed after this election that he hopes you vote ‘yes’ on.  My point, I think, is this:  Had there actually been an adequate public process, had the public been at the table, had the commissioners been at the table, mistakes wouldn’t have been drafted into the charter language you will be voting on. That’s why you have pubic process. Notwithstanding my deep respect for Mayor Potter, he fell short on that mark.

“You also may have heard the Portland business Alliance and the city developers have given thousands of dollars to support the ballot measure that would institute the proposed ‘strong mayor’ form of government. This proposal would have the affect of reducing the number of people the business community would have to influence to advance their interest.

“You will hear that the proposed changes will streamline government and provide efficiencies. But really, all it will streamline is the business communities’ efforts to drive the city’s agenda. After all, it is much more difficult to convince three people that it’s a good idea than it is to convince one person.

“To illustrate, here is an example of an alarming impact of the proposed charter change:  If passed, the new charter will allow the Mayor to sell parkland to anyone, for any price that the Mayor chooses.

“When I asked David Wang, the Chair of the Charter Review Commission, at the one city council hearing we had on this subject, why in the world they would put language in the city charter to give that much authority to the Mayor, he said, ‘Commissioner Leonard, I haven’t seen that provision, I can’t respond.’   Mayor Potter will tell you that three of the council members must declare the property surplus before the land can be sold.  However, the current charter requires that four members of the city council must agree to sell public property, including having to agree to the price and to whom it is sold.  That will change if this charter amendment passes.  So why does Mayor Potter want to change that section at all? How does it serve Portlanders to change the charter to allow one person to decide whom to sell our public lands to — and for how much?  What is the problem that the Mayor is trying to fix?

“At a time when a narrow majority of the Portland city council is the only thing preventing the parks bureau from selling off part of Mt. Tabor Park to private interests, consolidating power into the hands of one person is a dangerous thing for our neighborhoods.

“Another proposed change allows the Mayor to hire a chief administrative officer commonly known as a city manager.  The new council would vote to confirm the chief administrative officer.  Interestingly, however, the Mayor not only appoints the city manager, under his proposed change in government he also gets to vote to confirm his own appointment.

“While he characterizes the proposed changes as a separation of executive and legislative powers, he has seen fit to keep himself as a legislative, quasi-judicial voting member of the city council, with his proposed charter change.  That is, he wants all the executive authority, plus 1/5 of the legislative quasi-judicial authority exercised by the current city council.

“My analogy:  Imagine if you will what the world might be like if President Bush had the executive powers of the president. plus 1/5 of the votes of the House, plus 1/5 votes of the Senate, plus judicial authority.  To quote the City Club, in a report that just came out last week, ‘By spreading authority broadly among commissioners the current form not only offers citizens greater access to city leaders, it insures that this diffuse leadership can serve as a bulwark against an ineffectual or reckless Mayor.’  The City Club concluded by recommending that you vote ‘no’ on this ballet measure.

“Ladies and Gentlemen that is just too much power for any one person to have. We cannot afford to put Portland’s future in the hands of just one person.”

Resources:

  • For arguments in favor of changing Portland’s city government system and structure, see www.reformcityhall.com.
  • For arguments against changing Portland’s city government system and structure, see www.toomuchpower.org.

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