Mop-up duty for the grownups

Chisholm, Van Ness.

They've released the list of nominees for commissioners to draw up the boundaries of Portland's four new City Council wards. Drumroll, please. In alphabetical order:

  • Kari Chisholm
  • Steve Fleischman
  • DaWayne Judd
  • Arlene Kimura
  • Joshua Laurente
  • Paul Lumley
  • Amanda Manjarrez
  • Neisha Saxena
  • David Michael Siegel
  • Melody Valdini
  • Edie Van Ness
  • Sharon VanSickle-Robbins
  • Lamar Wise

This crew of 13, proposed by the mayor, Dud Wheeler, will, if confirmed by the rest of the existing council, be tasked with coming up with a map under which the new city charter election rules will be implemented. 

I actually know two of these people. Chisholm is a well-known political consultant and ex-blogger. Van Ness, a lawyer in private practice, has also done some blogging in her time. Both have always seemed like level-headed, knowledgable people to me. And their hearts are in the right place. (Interestingly, they're both USC grads.)

As for the rest, they check all kinds of boxes, and a few of them have backgrounds that give me pause. Siegel is a retired urban planner; Valdini is a Portland State political science wiz. Neither of those groups have impressed me as helping the city along much; quite the contrary.

But overall, what impresses me is that the nominees appear to average out in age to somewhere in their 50's. Contrast that with with the charter commission, a bunch of mostly young people with big ideas and ambition but no common sense. I guess it's the difference between a committee assembled by Wheeler and a committee assembled by the council as a whole.

I wish that the adults we see on today's list had been the charter commission instead of the boundaries commission. I doubt that they would have gone for only four districts, three bobbleheads per district, and a wacky version of "ranked-choice" voting that's never been tried anywhere. Oh, well. It's nice that the new folks have volunteered to try to straighten out the deck chairs. But I fear they're on a ship of fools.

It could be worse, I guess. A reader points me to this story, about Nashville, Tennessee, where the City Council bloat is up to 40 members. Forty! Can you imagine who that would be in Portlandia? I shudder to think. The reader also had some thoughts worth sharing:

Forty council members for Nashville does seem excessive. On the other hand, five members, including the mayor, seems really, really low for Portland. There are other apples to oranges components that don't make sense to compare, but I think looking at Nashville/Portland government is interesting. Nashville has had a united city/county government since 1963. It's now known as Metro Nashville. There's a single school district (How many does Portland have?!) and other services, although things like trash and brush pick-up are not at the same level throughout Metro Nashville/Davidson County. Some outlying areas have a lower level of service. Portland's situation is more complicated because the city lies inside multiple counties. 

 One thing I really like about Metro Metro Nashville government is that there is hybrid district/at-large representation. A friend of mine, who is a Muslim immigrant from Nigeria, serves on the Metro Nashville Council. I doubt she could have been elected in most districts. Yes, we get carried away with concerns about equity, etc., but considering the vast amount of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment in TN, this is a huge win. I am a fan of hybrid municipal representation. District or at-large alone don't provide the same level of attentiveness toward all constituents.

Somewhere between five and forty, there's probably a reasonable number of council members. Obviously, it depends on the size of the city. Nashville and Portland are very similar in population numbers, even including the entire population of Metro Nashville. Twenty council members sounds reasonable to me for Nashville, but I guarantee the Tennessee legislature has nefarious intent. They always do. They think this would result in a less progressive council, although I'm not sure exactly how that's supposed to play out. 

The Portland charter change is done now. I expect it will be an improvement over the completely dysfunctional mess that exists now. (I know you disagree.) I'm sure, though, that there could have been a better solution. Maybe it will be revisited someday, probably not anytime soon. 

Just thought I'd share since you've written a lot about Portland's charter change. There must be cities getting this right. No need to start from scratch.

We're starting from somewhere, but I don't know if "scratch" is the right word. Good luck to the Portland adults as they pick up after the kids. 


  1. Cue the righteous indignation from Carmen & Dan for the list not being {black, brown, LGBTQ+, "poor", drug-addicted, homeless, }-enough. Pick one or more...

  2. The best possible outcome is no outcome. I'd rather they spend a lot of money and accomplish nothing than put some cockamamie plan together that only makes things worse and put it into action. Let this be another one of those projects like the Interstate Bridge but on a slightly smaller scale. Just one mans opinion.

    1. Maybe it could be like the new police review board we voted for. Or Measure 114. Both in limbo indefinitely.

      I do think there's an outside chance that someone will raise some sort of legal objection to their version of "ranked-choice" voting. Whatever happened to "one person, one vote"?

  3. I can't claim to know Edie well but I've had some professional interactions with her over the years. She seems intelligent and sane, the latter being a characteristic that is really in demand in PDX government.

  4. Curious if they might try to balance property and city tax collections from each ward. Representation by taxation.

  5. Nashville has approximately half the number of municipal employees, as compared to the combined city/county/metro in Portland. So lots of council members, sure, but still more efficient than here. They also have about 1450 police officers in that total, as opposed to 800 here.


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