Charter Review Committee briefs Board on proposed changes to County charter

August 2, 2022
Multnomah County voters will decide on seven measures that would amend the County’s charter this November, including whether to require the County to explore options to extend the right to vote in elections and whether to adopt ranked choice voting. 

The Charter Review Committee briefed the Board of Commissioners on their final report and recommendations Tuesday, Aug. 2, outlining the proposed measures that would alter the County’s governing document if approved by voters.

The Multnomah County Charter requires all amendments proposed by the Charter Review Committee to be submitted to the people of Multnomah County. On Thursday, Aug. 11, the Board will take up a procedural resolution on referring the proposed amendments to voters. Commissioners are also expected to certify the associated ballot titles and explanatory statements for filings with the Elections Director.

Members of the Charter Review Committee present their recommendations during the Tuesday, Aug 2 board briefing.

“You really are making the County better and holding us accountable and thinking about things we haven’t thought about before,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said. 

The County Home Rule Charter requires a Charter Review Committee to be convened every six years to study the Charter. If the Committee chooses, it can propose amendments to submit to voters. The charter is the local version of a constitution, essentially creating the structure of Multnomah County government.

The 15 members of the 2021-22 Charter Review Committee are County residents selected by state lawmakers who represent parts of Multnomah County. The committee began its work in September 2021 and held its last meeting on July 20, 2022. 

The committee recommended seven proposed amendments: 

  • Amending charter language to be gender neutral.
  • Requiring the County to extend the right to vote, including but not limited to noncitizens, to the fullest extent allowed by law.
  • Adopting instant runoff, ranked-choice voting in County officer elections by 2026 
  • Changing the Charter Review Committee’s qualifications, appointment process, and length of service.
  • Requiring County commissioners to conduct at least one inspection of County jails and correctional institutions each calendar year, with at least one volunteer member of the public selected to participate and make public reports.
  • Establishing an ombudsperson function within the County Auditor’s Office.
  • Providing the County Auditor with unrestricted, timely access to the County employees, information and records required for the Auditor to perform their duties, and requiring all contracts with outside contractors and subcontractors to contain a “right-to-audit” clause. 

“What I see in the amendments is a commitment to improving process,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran, “and also to improving transparency and accountability and equity, and inclusion in how we run County government.”

One of the amendments likely to garner public interest is the proposal to require the County to determine whether there are legal pathways for extending the right to vote in County elections, including to noncitizens. 

If passed by voters, the committee expects the County to explore legal options for extending the vote. If there are no current legal pathways to extend the vote, the committee recommends the County actively advocate for changing state and federal law.

“I appreciated most of your recommendations, especially extending voting rights to the fullest extent of the law,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “That’s something I’ve long been interested in.”

The Multnomah County Charter Review Committee held 15 public meetings. Its four subcommittees held an additional 30 public meetings. The committee accepted public comment at meetings and in writing. The Office of Community Involvement hired a consultant to conduct four focus groups and a community survey to collect additional community input.

“I think you’ve been very responsible and really thoughtful about what you’re bringing forth,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “It really was a team effort.”

The committee also offered suggestions for future charter review committees to consider, including exploring a County manager and reviewing whether to enshrine the position of chief operating officer in the Charter.

“If we had one takeaway, it’s that people are resoundingly interested in this process,” said Theresa Mai, one of the chairs of the Charter Review Committee. “Many of them are saying they would love to learn about County government and County services as well.”

“I appreciate all the work that’s gone into this,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said. “And I think the way you take this responsibility shows clearly in the recommendations you’ve made.”