Illustration by Zahira Zuvuya

Inside Portland’s City Council reform process

An exclusive interview with Shoshanah Oppenheim

In Nov. 2022, Portland voters approved ballot Measure 26-228. This measure represents a package of changes, including using rank-choice voting to give voters the power to rate candidates in order of preference. The new system also increases Portland’s City Council from five to 12 members and divides Portland into four districts, each with three elected councilors. Portland State Vanguard interviewed Shoshanah Oppenheim, the Strategic Projects and Opportunity Manager, about how the changes are being implemented.


How is the transition team ensuring that the team is fairly dividing the new districts?


“The city council appointed a 13-member independent district commission…their job is to develop a district plan for the city council elections. They will be engaging the community and ensuring that the community’s voices are heard throughout the process and developing a draft plan for community review later in the summer. Their final plan is due September 1.”


When would the city of Portland start using this form of government? Is there an official date?


“The first election of the new City Council and the district elections is going to be in November 2024; and in January 1 of 2025, when we open our doors at the city of Portland, we will have a new form of government.”


What are the biggest challenges associated with adding the district system to the existing at-large city commission that you faced?


“I think the biggest challenge is the timeline—it is somewhat relentless. The commission just got appointed. They are 13 individuals and several alternates who have never met each other and are going to be making a very very important decision for Portlanders. So educating the commission, ensuring that they have the information that they need in order to develop criteria that is reflective of our community and ensures that we have districts of equal population that meet the other criteria required for districts. I think that’s the biggest challenge—it’s a very short timeline, and these are volunteer positions, and we know that the commissioners will be giving up a significant portion of their time and pretty much the entire month of July in order to accomplish this task.”


Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that City Commissioner Dan Ryan said that once the decisions were made by the charter commission, it felt really rushed. What do you say in response to that?


“Having sat through the two years of the charter commissions work which was deliberate and effective and both educating themselves as well as educating the community, I think I just have a difference of opinion. Reasonable people can disagree about the process for the development of the charter amendments but I respect the commissioner’s thoughts on that, but it was a very long, deliberative process that engaged every part of the community in the conversation.”


Major milestones: Overview of the projects and the key deliverables.


“So we’ve met our first milestone, which is launching the independent district commission and recruiting for their salary commission and their governance transition advisory committee. In April we’ll see revisions to our code to account for elections using rank-choice voting that will allow the county to adopt changes to their elections software for tabulation. In August, the salary commission will complete their work, establishing the salaries for elected officials. In September, the district commission will establish maps for the four geographic districts…and we’ll be launching a voter education campaign to ensure that Portlanders have the information that they need to exercise their choices on the ballot. A key milestone for this whole project is the adoption of the budget for fiscal year ‘24, ‘25. The budget will span the current form of government in a new council mayor form with the addition of the city administrator.”


How will voters hold the district commissioners accountable for problems when there are three people per district?


“The benefit to Portlanders of having three representatives representing them in their districts is that our neighbors and Portlanders will have more diversity of thought and expertise representing them in their districts, so rather than it being confusion about who is responsible, there are more people responsible to advance the needs of a particular district.”