The revitalized Charter Review Commission is looking like it might refer at least two significant reforms to the voters after all.

With staff support from Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office, the commission might ask voters to create a permanent Human Rights Commission and an Independent Utility Rate Commission to oversee water and sewer rates. It has scheduled a public forum on the proposals for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29, in Council Chambers, 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave.

The commission has the power to refer charter amendments directly to the voters without City Council approval. At its first meeting, Commissioner Amanda Fritz urged the members to focus on housekeeping measures. Saltzman is pushing the idea of the utility rate commission, however.

1st District races will be costly

Residents of Oregon's 1st Congressional District should get prepared to be bombarded with campaign ads during the next 15 months.

Because Democratic Congressman David Wu resigned Aug. 3, the district has no incumbent, giving both parties a fighting chance to win it. And the opening comes as each party needs a victory it can tout as reflecting the will of the people on such divisive issues as whether to cut services or increase taxes to reduce the deficit.

The two major political parties are not expected to get officially involved in the contested Nov. 8 special primary election. But liberal interest groups are likely to pour money into the campaigns of the three major Democratic candidates - state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici and state Rep. Brad Witt. Republican businessman Rob Cornilles is likely to attract all the business money because he ran well against Wu in the 2010 election.

Large party and special interest contributions will then throw their support behind two winning candidates before the special general election to be held on Jan. 31, 2012.

The pattern will repeat itself in the regular 2012 elections. The winner will only be in office for a few months before the May 15 primary, limiting the advantages that incumbents usually wield.

Library politics

Looks like the Multnomah County Commission is going to play hardball with the library funding measure. The existing library levy expires in June, meaning voters must approve a new measure within the next year or the libraries will close.

The commission is leaning toward asking voters to create a new district with its own tax base to fund the libraries on an ongoing basis. But Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen says the measure probably won't go on the ballot until the May 2012 primary election, giving voters just one chance to approve it before most of the funds run out.

The commission could put the measure on a November 2011 special election election ballot, then come back with a smaller request in May if voters reject it. But as Cogen points out, such an election would cost the county approximately $500,000 at a time when it is looking at making up to $8 million in additional budget cuts because of reduced funding from the state.

That may be true, but waiting until May for the first vote makes it harder for voters to say no to the library.

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