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Current, former Portland mayors say new 'executive mayor' proposal would politicize city management

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A group of former and current Portland mayors say that, despite changes made in recent weeks, they continue to oppose a plan to amend the city's charter and create an "executive mayor" position.

The proposal from the city's charter commission would eliminate the current city manager, while the mayor, as chief executive, would supervise a chief operating officer and direct them in preparing the city budget. The mayor would also nominate department heads, who would be confirmed by the city council.

After earlier pushback, the commission recently altered the plan and removed the mayor from the city council altogether. But the proposal would still give the mayor veto power, subject to override by the council.

Earlier this week, 14 former mayors, along with current mayor Kate Snyder, wrote that the proposal would still vest the mayor position with "unprecedented political power and financial management" and would politicize city management.

Former mayor Jill Duson said she feels the current system, in which the city council hires a city manager, provides more accountability and gives more voice to residents across the city.

"I can't figure out how that is not more democratic, gives broader influence on policy decisions before the council, than a single executive mayor," Duson said.

Charter Commission Chair Michael Kebede pushed back on that assessment. He noted that the current city manager is not directly accountable to voters, and the commission's proposal features several accountability measures, including mechanisms for voters or the city council to remove the mayor from office.

"Not only are they voted in by voters, but they can be voted out," Kebede said. "And not only can they be voted out at the end of their terms, when they run for election or if they run for reelection, but they can be voted out in the middle of their terms. That's not an option that currently exists for voters in Portland."

Kebede said the commission has already worked to address the mayors' concerns, and he says some of their questions may come from a misunderstanding of the proposal.

The commission is planning to hold its final meeting next week, and it will send several proposed charter changes to voters in November.