Portland Business Alliance President Sues to Strike Down Charter Reform Ballot Language

The chamber of commerce wants the three reforms split into separate questions, instead of bundled into one.

The president of the Portland Business Alliance filed a lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court this morning to strike down the charter reform measure set to ask voters in November whether they want to overhaul the city’s governance and elections.

The lawsuit names City Auditor, Mary Hull Caballero and Louise Hansen, the city’s elections officer, as defendants. The two city officials earlier this week declined to strike down the ballot measure after the PBA sent them a letter requesting they do so.

The ballot question proposes three major reforms: scrap the commission form of government and appoint a city administrator to oversee city bureaus; expand the size of the City Council to 12 members elected from four districts of three members each; and adopt ranked-choice voting.

The measure, which goes directly to the November ballot because it was approved by the once-a-decade Charter Commission in a 17-3 vote, bundles all three major reforms into one ballot question, meaning voters must vote yes or no for the entire package.

But the measure has drawn some powerful foes.

One is the Portland Business Alliance, the city’s chamber of commerce that has a large influence on City Hall.

Andrew Hoan, CEO and president of PBA, is the plaintiff representing the alliance.

The lawsuit filed this morning argues that the ballot measure as written by the City Attorney’s Office violates Oregon’s single-subject law, which mandates that ballot measures must present voters with only one topic per measure.

The Charter Commission and the City Attorney’s Office have said the measure will withstand any legal challenges thrown at it. That’s because a unifying principle, they say, threads all three of the reforms together. Earlier this month, charter commissioner Becca Uherbelau told WW: “We both need structural change and change to give Portlanders more voice and choice in who leads those structures. They’re not just related or unified. They’re interdependent.”

But the lawsuit disagrees with that premise and argues the reforms are “not logically connected.”

“Plaintiff is concerned that the coupling of the good and expected reforms to the city’s administration will be brought down at the ballot by the improvised concepts,” the lawsuit reads. “Plaintiff wants the Charter Commission to re-submit the same charter reforms to voters in multiple measures so that Portland’s voters have the choice to agree with all, none, or some of the Charter reforms.”

Debate over the ballot measure has split city leaders into political factions. Charter commissioners who support the measure say the opposition lining up against it is disappointing but not surprising; they’re the same people who have always had outsized influence at City Hall to fend off a more equitable system. (The opposition vehemently disagrees with this analysis.)

The City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Meanwhile, two other PACs are attempting to strike down the ballot measure entirely.

One is the Ulysses PAC formed by City Commissioner Mingus Mapps last fall explicitly to support charter reform. But in a flip, Mapps now opposes the reforms because they’re bundled into one question.

Similarly, two onetime staffers to late Mayor Bud Clark and recent City Council candidate Vadim Mozyrsky have also formed a PAC to kill the ballot measure.

Meanwhile, Building Power for Communities of Color is launching a PAC to support it. Other organizations supporting the measure include the League of Women Voters of Portland, Portland City Club, and Next Up.