Unless City Commissioner Sam Adams gets an ominous visit from the Ghost of Election Day Future and changes his mind, Portland City Council is expected to vote this Wednesday (by the time you read this) to send charter review out to the voters this May.
And that begs the question: Why even hold a public hearing on the proposals? If the May election is already a done deal, what's the point of listening to anyone on either side? Why not just vote and be done with it?
Since there's little chance of changing anyone's (read: Adams') mind, Wednesday's public hearing will serve one purpose and one purpose only—kicking off the three-month-long campaign over the future of the city.
The editorial board at the Oregonian has already jumped into the game, pushing for a yes vote on changing the city's form of government, calling our current commissioner system "antique" and critics of the change "superstitious." The O's take shouldn't be surprising, since the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) is already on record as supporting the proposed stronger mayor system, and these two haven't disagreed since, well, ever.
Outside of the PBA, the mayor's office, the Charter Review Commission, and the establishment press, there hasn't been much of a clamor for the governmental changes within the community at large. And if the arguments coming out of Mayor Tom Potter and the O are any indication, political consultants will have their work cut out for them. So far, there have been few compelling arguments in favor of changing the form of government; the main talking point is that the City of Portland has a "silo mentality"—since each commissioner controls several bureaus, those bureaus are disconnected from each other.
And yet, in the past two years, and without drastically changing the form of government, this "silo mentality" has been undermined—commissioners are now free to, and frequently do, propose policies outside of their bureaus. Not only that, but Potter has put commissioners in teams of two to work out bureau budgets—budgets that aren't theirs—requiring commissioners and bureaus to work together.
On the flipside, the current system seems fine to most Portlanders. Bureaus are headed up by elected officials who are, by necessity, accountable and responsive to voters. Convincing Portlanders to abandon that accessibility, in favor of a "more efficient" corporate structure, won't be easy.
The PBA, et al., will likely respond how they normally do—by flooding the debate with wads of cash. That must be the healthy "discussion" Potter keeps talking about.