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ECONOMY «   
EDUCATION «   
ENVIRONMENT «   
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PUBLIC SAFETY «   
SOCIAL ISSUES «   
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GOVERNMENT:
General

 



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Portlanders value accountable, accessible government.

Section Summary

Portlanders want their government to be accessible, accountable and willing to take a stand to protect the community’s values and those qualities that make Portland “vibrantly unique.” Community members advocate for increased transparency in government as well as increased diversity in City Hall. Portlanders value thoughtful, proactive, long-term city planning, seeing it an antidote to short-term, election-oriented thinking. They believe a clear community vision will help elected leaders make decisions that advance the livability and long-term wellbeing of the community as a whole.

Current opportunities for community involvement are highly valued, with many Portlanders calling for even higher levels of public participation in future decision-making. These Portlanders want to be heard and to have actual influence in shaping the course of city affairs. Portlanders are divided over whether or not a change in the form of city government might accomplish this. Some believe the current form is already broadly accessible, while others think the community’s interests would be better served by a different model.

Summary of Main Ideas

  1. Local government can and should stand up for people’s values.
  2. Community input is a hallmark of Portland’s local politics.
  3. Government actions should enhance the well-being of current and future generations.
  4. Government can be more transparent and more accountable.
  5. Portland needs greater diversity in its government.

Summary of Tensions and Disagreements

  1. Does the form of city government need to change?

MAIN IDEAS

  1. Local government can and should stand up for people’s values.
  • Many Portlanders see their progressive values reflected in the decisions and policies adopted by their local government.
  • They applaud local officials for embracing positions on tough issues such as gay marriage that may be politically risky but are seen as “the right thing to do.”
  • Some people specifically thanked local elected officials for “standing up” to the White House and federal government on issues related to privacy, terrorism and climate change.
  • Many Portlanders worry that local officials have a harder time “standing up to” business interests and developers, who are seen as threatening Portland’s cherished livability.
  • There are some calls for officials to take a stronger stand to preserve Portland’s “uniqueness” and “weirdness” so that the city does not lose its special character.
"We appreciate our elected officials taking risks to support gay marriage [and] stronger sentences for those who initiate hate-crimes (based on race as well as gender and sexual orientation).”

"I value the progressive politics of city officials willing to challenge the federal administration on dealing with terrorism and land use policies.”

"I do not want to drive or walk down the street and feel that I could be anywhere in America. Portland is vibrantly unique. This vision is the force that should inspire planning and laws of the community.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Some mention "voter owned elections," or public financing of elections, as a strategy to help elected officials take a stronger stand for the community.

  1. Community input is a hallmark of Portland’s local politics.
  • Many Portlanders praise the local government for its willingness to work collaboratively with individuals and neighborhood groups.
  • People speak of enjoying the opportunities they have to get involved in government through volunteer committees and commissions.
  • Many people speak of valuing opportunities to provide public testimony. However, some wonder if elected officials simply listen or actually incorporate public feedback into their decision-making processes.
  • Many express the desire to be heard and to have their perspectives considered when the time comes to make a decision.
"I value the collaborative nature of problem-solving that seems constantly to be taking place, and the fact that citizens are invited, indeed, welcomed into these processes.”

"Please continue to actively solicit input from citizens who live here and please take seriously concerns and ideas that we may have regarding our neighborhoods and growth. Please really ‘walk the walk’ and let us all work together in co-creating the greatest city on this planet…It would break my heard if we are being encouraged to get involved and then the future of this city is directed only by those who have a financial interest.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Provide childcare at public events so more people can participate.
  2. Follow through with civic engagement processes and implement ideas the public has shared with the government.
  3. Report back to let people know how their feedback was used.

  1. Government actions should enhance the well-being of current and future generations.
  • Local government received much praise for “forward-thinking” actions and policies that improve the quality of life for future generations (such as setting aside land for parks and creating public spaces like Pioneer Courthouse Square).
  • Portlanders want their elected officials to make decisions with future generations, not the next elections, in mind.
  • A number of people are concerned that local leaders seem to have lost some of the long-term focus in their decision-making (see Government: Long-term Planning).
"Spend less time on elections and more on 'The City that Works.'”

“[In 2030] local government is focused on excellence in their core functions and efficiently implementing the long term vision for the city.”

"[In 2030] the people can vote in a mayor who shares their vision rather than selecting a group of commissioners who override the mayor and never seem to reach consensus or have a group vision.”


  1. Government can be more transparent and more accountable.
  • Portlanders want a local government that is transparent in its decision-making processes as well as its spending and finances.
  • Even those who are willing to pay higher taxes want to know how their money is being spent and how spending decisions are made.
  • Some Portlanders currently feel that decisions, especially around development spending, are being “made behind closed doors.”
  • There are a number of comments throughout this chapter regarding a perceived lack of transparency and accountability at the Portland Development Commission.
"[I would like to see] more open government and better information about what the government is doing.”

"[In 2030] the city and local government make all their actions/decisions in a the open, not in private closed-door meetings.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Create (or better publicize) a clear methodology that explains how decisions (budget decisions, development decisions) are made.
  2. Create a collegial environment that encourages honest and cordial discussion so that debates and decisions can take place in the open.

  1. Portland needs greater diversity in its government.
  • There were a number of calls for more diversity in City Hall, including greater ethnic diversity, gender diversity and cultural diversity.
  • People would like to see diverse individuals serving as mayor, city commissioner and holding other high-ranking positions in local government.
  • People are particularly interested in seeing more ethnic and gender diversity in City Hall, but some also called for more diverse political viewpoints (for instance, a commissioner who better represents the business community).
“[In 2030] Leadership in the city (private and public) is ethnically diverse, demonstrating that the city has done a better job alleviating poverty and opening doors of opportunity to everyone."

Sample Strategies:

  1. The City should invest in programs and projects that develop leadership skills within minority communities.

TENSIONS AND DISAGREEMENTS

  1. Does the form of city government need to change?

  2. Many Portlanders wonder if changes to the form of city government might make government even more responsive and accountable. Among those who advocate changes, some would like to decentralize government by giving more power to neighborhoods to make a wide range of decisions. Advocates of this strategy believe that the closer the government is to the people, the more responsive and accountable it will be.

    Others would prefer to see political power concentrated in the Office of the Mayor. Advocates for this approach believe that a “strong mayor” would be better able to implement the people’s vision than a mayor who must share power with four other officials. Many of these Portlanders believe that the current form of government results in unnecessary inefficiency and in-fighting, which distracts government from serving the people and reduces the impact of community voice.

    Finally, a large number of Portlanders value the current form of city government. These Portlanders feel that they are well-represented and that their voices are taken into consideration by their elected officials. While some do suggest electing commissioners from specific neighborhoods, the majority in this group do not see the need to change the form of city government.

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