The Portland City Charter is the rough equivalent of a constitution for city government, and that means the recently appointed Charter Review Commission has an unusual power: the ability to go directly to voters to suggest fundamental changes in local government.
The commission's appointment ought to present a relatively rare opportunity for an independent group of people to propose such meaningful improvements. But, as we report today on Page A10, the City Council appears determined to limit the commission's ability to do the job it was created to perform.
The council has asked the commission to stick to 'housekeeping' items and not tackle large topics. The commission, however, shouldn't follow that advice. When voters created a process for reviewing the charter in 2007, they didn't place limitations on the subject matter. The charter commission, therefore, should feel free to cast a wide net and consider everything from how city commissioners are elected (at large throughout the city or by zone?) to requirements for citizen involvement in council decisions.
We agree with former Mayor Tom Potter that the council shouldn't set time limits or otherwise handcuff the charter commission, which wouldn't be required to meet for another 10 years after this. However, we don't think it takes big money to consider big ideas. The charter review process should proceed unhindered with the city providing objective staff support and analysis as the need arises.
Everyone should share in the end goal - unimpeded evaluation and comprehensive recommendations on how the City Charter can best serve Portland residents.