Saturday, March 03, 2007

Discuss charter change proposal HERE

After Thursday's post I sent some 20 neighborhood activists (neighboristas?) an e-mail inviting their views on whether the proposed charter revision would help neighborhoods.

That has prompted a lively, fascinating debate. Unfortunately none of the comments has made it onto this site. So I'm writing the respondents again to encourage them to comment here. That way everyone can follow the thread.

Feel free to join in. Here's most of what I wrote:

Last night I wrote a Red Electric entry in which I said the proposed charter revision has bungled an opportunity to give neighborhoods a much-needed seat at the table of
city government.

If I vote for the charter revision, it won't be with the hope that it will help us in Hillsdale. It could even make matters worse.

I'm wondering what you are thinking.

Rick

Labels: ,

4 Comments:

Blogger Frank Dufay said...

The charter change as proposed doesn't eliminate rule by popularity contest, it simply puts more power in the hand of ONE elected official, without the checks and balances our current form of government affords us.

<<< In communities where commissioners are relieved of the burden of running
vast agencies they have more time to circulate among the constituency and
consider some of the longer term trends that affect the quality of the
community. >>>>

What Portland's current form of government gives us is elected officials, directly answerable to their constituents for the banal, everybody needs we have as citizens, be it water, or crosswalks. The Office of Transportation isn't run by some inaccessible bureaucracy, it assumes the very public identity of the elected official in charge. For good or ill, it is Sam Adams' Office of Transportation, Dan Saltzman's Park Bureau and Randy Leonard's Water Bureau. I don’t think that's a bad thing at all.

<<< what we need is a balance between vision and accomodation for the existing needs,
and above all we need a system that can really deliver the results on time,
and on budget. >>>

What we need, above all, is a system that can recognize and respond to our community's needs. Remove the responsibility for delivering services and you remove the elected officials from the front lines where they can hear from --and respond to!-- us. And we don't just need the trains to run on time, we need to be involved in the discussion of where the tracks are placed. The "results" we seek need to be responsive to the community.

<<< Let's free our Commissioners from the petty interdepartmental competition that exists today and turn them into the "Board of Directors" of our community. <<<

The public-at-large is already the Board of Directors. We don’t need another one. We need elected officials who can keep our sewers running, and traffic lights working. And the "petty interdepartmental competition" you refer to is the serious competition for resources that provides a dynamic tension between competing segments of the community. What's a higher priority for limited resources, Parks or Police? Should transportation money go to fund infrastructure needs in existing neighborhoods, or be directed to build new communities? These are the discussions best held out in the open, among our elected representatives, not decided behind closed doors by faceless bureaucrats. Embarassments like the Water Bureau billing system and the Tram cost over-runs happen precisely because elected officials weren't paying enough attention, not because they were too involved.

I would be the first to argue --and have-- that we bureaucrats need some distance (and protection) from undue "political" interference in the execution of our duties. That's why we have laws and codes and charters. But ultimately, in a democracy, it is the responsibility of our elected officials to be responsive to their constituents in ways that the bureaucracy can never be. We don't make policy, the people do --or should be-- through their elected officials.

Is the existing system working great? No. But the answer doesn't lie in removing our commisioners even further from the responsibilities of running --not just imagining or visioning-- government. We need a conversation about how to get better at being representative government. But I'm afraid this current round of proposals suffers from a lack of the very community involvement that we need to figure out how to make our government more responsive to the community and, yes, neighborhoods. We have an amazing neighborhood involvement system...but it's played no role in developing these proposed charter changes for how to make government more responsive?

Though I write from many years of experience in City government --and as a neighborhood activist-- I'm obviously speaking for myself. And I have to say there's much that's attractive to me about the charter changes as proposed. Too often I see "politics" impinging on the bureaucracy's ability to do its job without fear or favor. But there's no escaping the fact that these proposals are rushed, there hasn't been time for adequate community input, and having a vote now on these proposals does a disservice to what I otherwise think has been a noble effort of Mayor Potter's to engage the community in what we want Portland to look like, and how we can best govern it.

Frank Dufay
SE Portland

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Jim Thayer said...

Over the last 20 years my economic development work in Oregon has involved
close interaction with many municipal governments in the Portland area
(Gresham, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, St. Helens among others) and across
Oregon. My work with these governments usually involves problem solving for
businesses and for the communities themselves - and these solutions usually
involve many aspects of government, as well as collaboration between public
and private interests.

It has been my experience that those cities that use a coordinated form of
government that is centrally managed by a city manager have been
consistently more efficient - especially when it comes to solving problems
that cross departmental boundaries, such as land use issues versus
transportation issues - a nexus most familiar to our neighborhoods.

In communities where commissioners are relieved of the burden of running
vast agencies they have more time to circulate among the constituency and
consider some of the longer term trends that affect the quality of the
community. Clackamas Commissioner Martha Shrader, for instance, spends much
time in the field working with her constituency considering how to make
Clackamas County a better place for all - this is time the Portland
commissioners have to spend on managing their large departments. In fact,
running these large departments with multi-million budgets is a very
challenging task. In the private sector no one would ever consider putting a
novice with no prior experience in charge of an agency with hundreds of
employees, a multi-million dollar budget and responsibility for the city's
life critical systems - but that's what Portland does. The current form of
government assumes that simply because an individual can win a popular
election this also makes them well qualified to run such a large
organization. I think we can all recall recent costly debacles in the Water
Bureau and involving the Tram that might put that notion in doubt.

So which form of government serves the neighborhoods better? This is the
wrong question. We should be considering what serves the best interests of
our entire community, not just the interests of specific neighborhoods. We
should not be trying to rearrange our political structure with the intent of
tilting the political discourse in favor of one group over the other. What
we need is a balance between vision and accomodation for the existing needs,
and above all we need a system that can really deliver the results on time,
and on budget.

Portland is regarded with awe by many other municipalities across the
country and the world, because we have managed to make some very strategic
decisions along the way that have helped us anticipate the future in a way
that few other communities have. But many of our boldest moves have required
strong political leadership, often in the face of resistance from entrenched
special interests. If we are to continue to make such pioneering moves we
have to empower our elected leadership to lead, and leave the management of
the agencies to managers. Let's free our Commissioners from the petty
interdepartmental competition that exists today and turn them into the
"Board of Directors" of our community. Let them set our city's direction
based on what they hear from the community as a whole, and then give them
the power to enable or disable the wheels of public government in their role
as stewards of that public will.

On March 22nd, at 7 PM (at Ainsworth School on SW Vista) SWHRL will host
Mayor Tom Potter at our neighborhood meeting to discuss precisely these
questions, and I would encourage all who are interested in this issue,
regardless of your views, to attend and participate in what will likely be a
lively discussion.

Jim Thayer, President SWHRL

5:13 PM  
Blogger The One True b!X said...

On March 22nd, at 7 PM ... SWHRL will host Mayor Tom Potter at our neighborhood meeting to discuss precisely these questions...

Just the mayor, or does the other side get a special captive audience with SWHRL as well?

10:28 AM  
Blogger The One True b!X said...

The current form of
government assumes that simply because an individual can win a popular
election this also makes them well qualified to run such a large
organization. I think we can all recall recent costly debacles in the Water
Bureau and involving the Tram that might put that notion in doubt.


And putting all of those decisions into the hands of a single mayor will somehow guarante that said single person is qualified to run ALL the bureaus?

10:30 AM  

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