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Group complains that City Council set it up for failure

Citizen members of Portland's Charter Commission pulled the plug on their 14-month-long effort to amend the city charter Monday night, frustrated by poor attendance and lack of support from the Portland City Council.

That means the group won't ask Portland voters to amend the city charter by creating an independent panel to help set city water and sewer rates, among other proposals.

Instead, the group decided to disband a few days before its deadline, with many offering sharp criticisms of the City Council.

'I want them to know that they set us up for failure,' said Jo Ann Hardesty, a longtime activist and former state lawmaker.

The group mustered only 11 members to Monday night's meeting, a time when some hoped they would vote to refer a charter amendment to voters setting up an Independent Utility Commission. However, 15 votes were required of the supposedly 20-member panel to send measures to voters. Eleven votes were required to make simple recommendations for charter changes to the City Council, though there's no assurance the council would heed those suggestions.

Two of the 20 members had resigned and city councilors declined to replace them. Other members have not been attending meetings, making it difficult to gain the votes needed to make any decisions.

'Some folks I haven't seen since August, when I joined,' Hardesty said. It's not clear if they resigned without telling anyone, got hit by a bus or were abducted by extraterrestrials, she said.

'This group has unfortunately lost its legitimacy,' said Justin Delaney, a vice president at The Standard insurance company. 'I think we're spinning our wheels and wasting the public's time.'

City commissioners were set on Wednesday to extend the terms of eight members until March 5, so the group could finish its work.

The Charter Commission was mandated when voters approved Measure 26-98 in May 2007, a campaign led by former Mayor Tom Potter and real estate developer Bob Ball. The idea was to let citizens suggest changes to what amounts to the city's constitution, bypassing elected leaders.

But Charter Commission members fumed that the City Council didn't provide it enough funding and arbitrarily limited the terms of members, causing high turnover and a shrunken panel.

Some said it was clear the City Council only wanted the panel to approve a series of housekeeping amendments and then move on.

Besides the independent utility commission proposal, the panel had been exploring potential charter changes on police accountability, creation of a Human Rights Commission and instant runoff voting.

However, none of those ever came up for a vote, and when the Independent Utility Commission proposal was ready for a vote, there weren't enough members participating to pass it.

There won't be a final report from the Charter Commission. Instead, the panel's two co-chairs agreed to make a presentation to the City Council, though they were in no rush to do so Monday night.

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