PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Do you live in Portland? If so, which city council person represents your neighborhood? The answer: None. Portland is the only major city in the U.S. where council members are elected citywide — there are no districts. But some east side residents want that changed.
“I was helping my neighbors,” Collene Swenson explained. “About 30 of the neighbors showed up at some neighborhood meetings and asked the city to come to the meeting, and [they] never came.”
Swenson and her neighbors are working to completely change the way Portland elects its government. They argue the lack of city response to their issue is due to the fact that neighborhoods have no voice.
They are working to establish nine commissioners, each elected from different geographic areas — where they must live — who would focus on representing the people. The mayor would be elected at large to run city bureaus.
“It is a power grab,” Swenson said. “It is absolutely a power grab for the voters. It’s a power grab for you and for me to have direct representation.”
Portland is the only city in the country that still has a commission form of government, where it doesn’t matter where council members live.
Current commissioners and the mayor all live relatively close to the downtown core of Portland, but none reside on the far east side.
“I don’t need a government if they’re not going to represent me,” Swenson said.
This Tuesday, Mayor Charlie Hales made his budget announcement on the east side of the city.
“Budgets are how elected officials make values real and I love this city and I believe east Portland needs extra attention,” Mayor Hales said.
Swenson said under her group’s new plan, the east side will get the attention it deserves.
“We all have common problems, they are all the same,” she said. “We all want a quality of life, we all want to have a voice, we all want to be equal. It’s very simple.”
Similar efforts to change Portland’s government have failed twice in the last 13 years. This group just refiled corrected paperwork May 6, and they said they are confident they can get this issue on the ballot to let voters decide which type of government will work best for the city.