If you read our story about Portland's increasingly alienated system of governance this week and found yourself hoping someone would step in and propose changes, don't look at the last guy who tried.
Portland developer Bob Ball made a push in 2002 to get Portland away from the antiquated "commission form" of government into something more in line with the rest of the nation.
We've long been the only major city to let city council members make laws and run city departments. Now we're one of just two where every city council member is elected by the entire populace. Other big cities carve out districts, and would-be politicians must only win the hearts and minds of these subsections to gain office.
People who study this stuff say each system has its pros and cons, but that district-based elections are cheaper, promote more minority involvement, create more-representative councils, and decrease the influence of monied interest groups.
Which all sounds pretty great, except for Portland refuses to change.
Ball's 2002 effort would have ended the commission form of government, putting executive power in the hands of the mayor. It would have created nine city council seats, seven from geographic districts and two citywide.
"I was just looking for a way to be involved and help solve problems," Ball says now. "One of the problems I heard is the commission form of government is broken."
He travelled to cities like San Francisco, Denver and Phoenix, he says, specifically to quiz officials on the pros and cons of their governments. He came back from those trips with a few ideas.
"Ultimately I believed that district elections were more progressive and would be more representative of the electorate," Ball says. "I thought: 'People will read it on its merits, right?'"
But the proposal went down in flames, attracting less than 24 percent of the vote. Mayor Charlie Hales, then a commissioner, was a big opponent. So was former Mayor Bud Clark, who told the Mercury at the time: "This just pissed me off. I found out how much power it gives to the mayor and it really sickened me."
A similar effort to do away with the commission system—though maintain an all at-large city council—failed in 2007. In all, assaults on the commission form of government have failed eight times. Ball—who also had a hand in the 2007 loss—told the Mercury in 2002: ""Even if it doesn't pass this time, I'll keep pushing."
Eleven years later, he says, he's done with the fight. These days, he's better known for his efforts to save the Portland Police Bureau's horse patrol. (Ball's also the guy who dropped the dime on former Mayor Sam Adams' liaison with Beau Breedlove).
"I think voters have spoken pretty soundly on the issue," Ball said.