Government of Portland, Oregon

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Portland City Council in session in April 2008. From left, Randy Leonard, Sam Adams (then city commissioner), then-Mayor Tom Potter, and Dan Saltzman.

The Government of Portland, Oregon, a city in the U.S. state of Oregon, is based on a city commission government system. Elected officials include a Mayor, a City Council, and a City Auditor. The mayor and commissioners (members of City Council) are responsible for legislative policy and oversee the various bureaus that oversee the day-to-day operation of the city.[1] The auditor is responsible for ensuring that the government operates in good faith. Portland began using a commission form of government in 1913 following a public vote on May 3 of that year.[2]

Each elected official serves a four-year term, without term limits.

Current City Commissioners are: Chloe Eudaly (elected in 2016), Nick Fish (re-elected in 2018), Amanda Fritz (re-elected in 2016), Jo Ann Hardesty (elected in 2018), and Mayor Ted Wheeler (elected in 2016). The Auditor is Mary Hull Caballero (elected in 2014).


The Portland Charter was the subject of much debate circa 1911–1912. Rival charters were drafted by four different groups, including the "official charter committee," appointed by the mayor; the "people's charter committee," constituted under the auspices of the East Side Business Men's Club; another citizen's committee which drafted the Short Charter; and the "people's committee," led by W.C. Benbow, which drafted the Benbow Charter. The Short Charter was unusual in that it would have used Bucklin voting to elect the mayor and implemented interactive representation of the people through the commissioner system; each commissioner's vote would have been weighted according to the number of votes he received in the election. The city council appointed a committee to draft a compromise charter. This charter, along with the Short Charter, were defeated in referenda. The following year, the city council submitted another charter to the people, which was accepted.[3] The city commission government form consequently came into use in 1913, with H. Russell Albee being the first mayor under the new system.[2]

In May 2007, Portland citizens rejected a ballot measure which would have changed city government from a commission form to a strong mayor system. Similar changes have been proposed and rejected several times over the years.

Notable former commissioners[edit]


City Council seats, as well as the City Auditor, are non-partisan, elected positions; each carries a four-year term. As with all non-partisan positions in Oregon, candidates face off in a primary election (typically in May of even-numbered years); if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the top two finishers face off in a runoff election (typically the following November.) Three Council seats, including the Mayor, were up for election in 2008; the other two seats, and the Auditor position, were up for election in 2010.

From 2006 to 2010, Portland used a publicly financed election system, allowing candidates to qualify for public funding of $145,000 if they could gather 1000 five-dollar contributions by a certain date (for Mayoral candidates, 1500 contributions of $5 were required for a $160,000 grant). Two candidates availed themselves of this system in 2006: incumbent Erik Sten, who won the primary election, and Amanda Fritz, who lost out to incumbent Dan Saltzman but won a seat two years later (utilizing publicly financed election money).[12] The November 2010 elections saw Portlanders rescind their support for this publicly financed election system.[13]

Public transportation[edit]

Public transit within the city is primarily the responsibility of TriMet, not the city government, but the Portland Streetcar and Portland Aerial Tram are exceptions; both are owned by the city.[14][15] The aerial cableway is managed by Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU),[15] but the city was heavily involved in its planning and funded about 15% of its construction cost, as part of the development of the South Waterfront. The city also pays 15% of the aerial tram's operating cost, under an agreement with OHSU.

Portland Streetcar[edit]

The city is owner of the Portland Streetcar system, and most of the planning and development of the 2001-opened system have been led by the city's Bureau of Transportation, in coordination with Metro and TriMet.[14] The city contracts with TriMet to provide operators and maintenance staff for the streetcar system, and TriMet pays a portion of the line's operating cost.[16] Certain administrative and planning functions are handled by employees of Portland Streetcar Inc. (PSI), a private non-profit public-benefit corporation whose board of directors report to the city's Transportation bureau and whose budget comes from contracts with the city. PSI subcontractor Shiels Obletz Johnsen provides the system's Chief Operating Officer and Community Relations Manager. Six positions are held directly by city employees: General Manager (part-time), Manager of Operations and Safety, Manager of Maintenance, Assistant Manager of Maintenance and two vehicle and stop cleaners.[16]

Related government entities[edit]

Portland is the county seat of Multnomah County, and the core of Metro, a regional government primarily concerned with land use planning. Both of these government entities have a strong impact on Portland policy. Portland is also governed by the government of Oregon and the federal government of the United States.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ list of bureaus
  2. ^ a b MacColl, E. Kimbark (1976). "Chapter 14 – The Fruits of Progressivism, 1913–1915". The Shaping of a City: Business and Politics in Portland, Oregon, 1885 to 1915. Portland, Oregon: The Georgian Press Company. pp. 443–445. ISBN 0-89174-043-0.
  3. ^ McBain, Howard Lee. The Law and the Practice of Municipal Home Rule. pp. 598–599.
  4. ^ Cogswell, Philip. "Mildred Schwab (1917–1999)". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  5. ^ Learn, Scott (October 15, 2002). "EPA challenges Portland sewer effort". The Oregonian.
  6. ^ Parente, Michele (December 29, 1996). "Urban pioneer Mike Lindberg takes a final bow". The Sunday Oregonian, p. 1.
  7. ^ Griffin, Anna (January 29, 2009). "Mike Lindberg's fight to save Caitlin". The Oregonian. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  8. ^ Leeson, Fred (May 10, 1994). "Kafoury's youngest opponent is 28, oldest 80". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2007-06-27.
  9. ^ Schmidt, Brad (May 23, 2011). "Portland's competitive 2012 mayoral race under way with Charlie Hales' announcement". The Oregonian. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  10. ^ Moore, Scott (November 23, 2006). "David vs. Goliath:The Battle for Mt. Tabor Heats Up". The Portland Mercury. Retrieved 2007-03-08.
  11. ^ Floum, Jessica (September 12, 2017). "Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman will not run for re-election, Nick Fish will". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  12. ^ Redden, Jim (November 8, 2008). "Fritz wins Portland City Council seat". Portland Tribune. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  13. ^ "Portland voters rejecting Measure 26-108's publicly funded campaign program". The Oregonian. November 2, 2010. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  14. ^ a b "Portland Streetcar Organization". Portland Streetcar Inc. 2008. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  15. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions". OHSU. 2007. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  16. ^ a b Webb, Mary (ed.) (2009). Jane's Urban Transport Systems 2009–2010, pp. 452–454. Coulsdon, Surrey (UK): Jane's Information Group. ISBN 978-0-7106-2903-6.

External links[edit]