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My View: Focus water board debate on real issues

Will we get better service from independent board?


These comments respond to your article (Who could run for potential water board?, Nov. 7), particularly the part that discussed opinions on whether the independent water board measure covers the whole city and whether board members may run for re-election.

It’s perplexing to have misunderstood words you think perfectly clear. It’s doubly perplexing when you have served as the Legislature’s counsel, and the misunderstood words — in this case, an independent water board measure — were crafted in consultation with municipal law experts.

There are two key points about which voters should not be confused. First, the measure covers the whole city. If you are a registered voter anywhere in Portland, you can serve on the new agency’s board and vote for board members.

Second, if you are fortunate enough to be elected to the new agency’s board, you can run for re-election.

One source of confusion appears to be the ballot title, which says (1) board zones are to “approximat[e] Portland Public School zones,” and (2) the measure does not address what happens outside the boundaries of PPS. The first part of the ballot title is at least partly right: PPS zones are a starting point for the City Council to draw zones for the whole city. The second part is simply wrong: the measure does address the parts of the city outside PPS.

The measure requires the City Council “[t]o the extent feasible and consistent with law” to draw zones that are “[c]oextensive with the zones established for the board of Portland Public Schools.” The key words are “to the extent feasible and consistent with law.” The City Council may not draw zones that disenfranchise city residents outside PPS. Leaving residents out of city decision-making wouldn’t be “consistent with law” even it were “feasible.”

The reference to PPS zones is to give the City Council a starting point for drawing the first zone map for the new board. There are seven PPS zones of relatively simple east-west/north-south orientation. Starting with these boundaries maintains simplicity and prevents gerrymandering. For the west side of Portland, the City Council’s job should be straightforward: adjusting PPS zones to accommodate the new water board should require little more than moving eastern boundaries a bit further east to encompass a full one-seventh of the city’s population.

As the map moves east to encompass areas within the city not within PPS, the drawing of the zone boundaries will require more original thought. That’s why the measure provides that, “[i]f possible, the council shall establish the zones so that a distinct community of interest or neighborhood is within a zone. In establishing the zones, the council shall consult with the Population Research Center at Portland State University.”

There are other places where the measure makes clear that everyone in the city governs the new agency, not just residents within PPS. For example, the measure provides that the new agency “shall be administered by a governing board of seven (7) directors elected by zone from among the electors of the city” — the “electors of the city,” not some of the electors of the city.

Another misconception about the measure is that a board member cannot run for re-election. The measure does not say that. What the measure says is:

The following individuals may not run for election to or serve on the board of the Portland Public Water District:

An individual serving in a public position to which an individual may be elected.

This provision prevents a board member from running for re-election only if you interpret “election” to include “re-election.” In Oregon law, typically you say re-election when you mean re-election. For example, Oregon’s constitution refers to “incumbents who seek re-election,” not incumbents who seek election. Under this provision, you can’t run for or serve on the board if you hold an elective office in some other government; you can run for re-election to this board.

To limit officials’ terms, you say so expressly along the lines of Multnomah County’s charter: “no incumbent or future elected officer of the county shall be eligible to serve more than two full consecutive four-year terms in any one elective county office within any 12-year period.”

The measure offers interesting issues for voters to debate, such as whether water and sewer service would be better and cheaper if provided by officials independent of the City Council. Whether the measure covers the whole city and whether board members can run for re-election shouldn’t be the subject of debate.

Gregory Chaimov, who authored the proposed ballot measure to wrest Portland’s water and sewer agencies from City Council control, is a Portland attorney and a former director of the Oregon Legislative Counsel Office.