Good Government, For the People
For Portland to achieve our goals, we must invest in a healthy, grassroots democracy, powered by community politics.
As Portland grows, it can feel more crowded, uncaring, and inaccessible than ever before. Sarah is running for mayor because she understands that despite our growing pains, our city government is one of the most important levels for problem-solving, not the lowest on the food chain below federal, state, and county.
It’s a time-worn saying that holds more true now than ever: we must think globally but act locally. As a city, we have the power to improve outcomes in our residents’ everyday lives while leading on solutions to global crises like the rise of authoritarian nationalism, climate chaos, and staggering inequality. For Portland to achieve our goals we must ensure we have a healthy democracy no longer powered by big money and special interests but by community-based politics.
Big money in politics is an existential threat to our democracy. As a People’s Mayor, Sarah is fiercely committed to ensuring that Portlanders are empowered to be change agents in their own lives and communities with direct access to the levers of power that for too long have been reserved for political insiders, wealthy donors, and corporate lobbyists. She is committed to propping open the doors of City Hall to the poor and marginalized rather than calling Portland Police to lock them out. Sarah will use the power of the mayor’s office to ensure that residents from all walks of life and every corner of the city who want to contribute to our democracy will feel their voices are heard and that their experiences and expertise are valued in building the future of #OurPortland.
Sarah firmly believes that we have everything we need to make radical progress on our most pressing issues—climate change, the housing crisis, staggering inequality—if we harness our resources, empower our people, and organize our communities into a formidable force for change. But our 19th and 20th Century governance models aren’t equipped to handle the increasing chaos of the 21st Century. This election, we have the opportunity to dismantle outdated institutions and begin building a new society based on the values of sustainability, inclusivity, and community prosperity that we all share.
In 2019, half of Portlanders surveyed felt they had little or no power to influence City decisions on issues important to them. If we want to put power in the hands of everyday Portlanders, we must invest in a healthy, grassroots democracy from Garden Home to Hayden Island, Cathedral Park to Powell Butte. The policies outlined below are a roadmap to ensuring that the City of Portland is as effective, efficient, and equitable as possible.
- Honest, Inclusive Elections
- Open the City ballot to all residents. Sarah believes strongly that immigrants, refugees, and asylees strengthen every aspect of this city and her administration will work tirelessly to bring their perspectives into shaping Portland’s policies. These community members who live, work, pay taxes, raise families, and own businesses here are currently disenfranchised from participating in our city’s democratic systems. While federal law prohibits non-citizens from voting in federal elections, states and cities are free to make their own decisions on who votes and there are numerous governments across the country including the San Francisco School Board that allow non-citizen residents to participate in the decisions of their district. In Oregon, expanding city democracy would likely require action from Salem, but Sarah is committed to using the full influence of Oregon’s largest city to expand the vote to all community members. Sarah believes in a democracy where those governed are able to vote, and that should include ALL of our community.
- Alternative voting methods. Election experts agree that our current system of voting is the democratic system most likely to make the most people unhappy with the outcome. Fortunately, there are more intuitive and more representative ways to cast a ballot that are tried and true across the world. Oregon has long led the way nationally on democratic innovation—from vote by mail over 20 years ago to automatic voter registration—we have an opportunity now at the city level to demonstrate what a thriving, participatory, and innovative voting model looks like.
- Electronic petitions. Our civic institutions are changing: some segments of our city are much more comfortable engaging on social media, or in a public discussion board than they are testifying at a public meeting in City Hall and our democracy should be as accessible to them as it is to folks who can come to downtown in the middle of the day. Sarah is invested in many strategies for opening our democracy to larger segments of Portlanders. One way would be to allow people to sign city petitions electronically, allowing grassroots community organizers who have carved out civic niches online to engage their constituencies in city ballot initiatives, recalls, and referenda.
- Get big money out of Portland politics. Historically the city’s wealthiest individuals and organizations have contributed the large amounts of money needed to mount a viable citywide campaign. These elite few have also been more likely to enlist the services of professional lobbyists to advance their agenda within City Hall regardless of who is elected. The cumulative effect is that wealthy special interests drown out the voices of everyday Portlanders. In 2018, Sarah was one of the 87.4% of Portland voters who supported an update to the City Charter outlawing contributions larger than $500. Those limits are being reviewed currently by the Oregon Supreme Court, but Sarah is going a step further: in the May election, she is capping donations at $250, making sure that her campaign has a broad, grassroots base of support. If elected, Sarah will not only abide by the will of Portland voters and follow the legal contribution limits, but also will work to enhance them by automating auditing of today’s exclusively complaint-initiated process.
- Strengthen and expand Open and Accountable Elections Program (OAE). Sarah is honored to be the first candidate in history to qualify for Portland’s new Open and Accountable small donor matching program. Voters own this election and their public investment in our democracy has made it possible to run a grassroots campaign citywide against a millionaire incumbent with deep pockets and big-money donors. OAE changes what is politically possible and is bringing new voices and new ideas into our city’s halls of power. In its current structure however the program is vulnerable to many kinds of internal undermining. If elected, Sarah will lay the foundations for the program to be successful for future generations of Portlanders. The program must be sustainably funded and housed in a permanent, independent office that insulates it from the daily politics of City Council.
- Representing The People
- Reforming the “weak mayor” commission through a robust charter review process. Our city works best when those making decisions reflect the experiences of the people whose lives they’re affecting. Our current system of citywide at-large elections has meant that only a small fraction of Portlanders are able to run for City Council. As a result our elected officials on City Council have historically been whiter, wealthier, more likely to be a man, and to live west of the Willamette River than the average Portlander. Sarah believes Portlanders should use the upcoming mandated charter review process in 2021 (led by a mayor with an unwavering commitment to spatial and social justice, equity, and inclusion) to think carefully about how we will govern ourselves and meet our goals in the future.
- Improving the appointment process. The City runs a large number of boards, commissions, and citizen committees that have varying levels of authority and accountability, and most of them originate with an appointment process that is ripe for abuse. The result is that strategic insiders, friends, and allies can be rewarded with positions that give them real power to in some cases spend millions of dollars, while critics, activists, and others can waste their time producing recommendations that are ignored. Sarah’s appointment process will be open and transparent, with justification provided for each appointment and clear conflict of interest policies and enforcement. The process will have the stated goal of matching people with the skills, lived experiences, and interest with positions that put them in the best place to contribute to the city for the public good.
- Participatory budgeting. Community members know best what their community needs. This value is why Sarah believes a fixed portion of the general fund should be allocated each year for the public to divide up between community proposals through a participatory democracy process. The participatory budgeting model has worked in many municipalities to bring otherwise under represented groups into the active development of their city. Participatory budgeting builds the next cohort of city leaders by giving people an opportunity to learn the city’s civic ecosystem and see tangible effects of their participation.
- Investments in voter turnout and civic education. A key performance metric for the City should be to have widespread engagement with our democracy including voter registration and turnout as well as civic education. Sarah’s administration will invest in these types of outcomes directly through city programming and indirectly by offering grants to organizations that build our civic infrastructure.
- Language that everyone understands. The language used in City documents and processes is frequently complex, convoluted, and hard to follow. Equitable access in decision-making processes requires clear communication in plain writing, including producing accessible and readable public documents in a range of formats and languages. Investments in translation and accessibility technologies and best practices will improve the availability of city materials for everyone.
- Accessible municipal government. Sarah believes that the best ideas for our city come from the residents who face and surmount everyday challenges. We need Portlanders’ great ideas for how to make this city better. Unfortunately, for many people, the first barrier to participating in city government is that the City isn’t accessible to them. Sarah will champion truly inclusive decision-making, where every Portlander is equipped and empowered to contribute to the greater good. Adoption and adherence to open data standards/formats and a preference for non-proprietary systems will make city systems more accessible today and lower the total cost of technical systems over the long term.
- Unified problem-solving at the neighborhood scale. As Portlanders, we need to rethink and refine our civic engagement processes to ensure we are meeting our primary goals of affordability, equity, and climate change adaptation. Resilient cities are well prepared with the empowered, connected communities necessary to face the challenges of increasing uncertainty. Portland is not adequately prepared for a natural, economic, or (as the past three years of protests have demonstrated) political upheaval. On July 18, 2018, the City Council passed Resolution 37373 which began the process of updating City Code Chapter 3.96 to define the functions and responsibilities of the Office of Community & Civic Life. How can Portland address these problems while improving livability and ensuring equitable prosperity for its residents? New leadership in the Mayor’s Office offers a prime opportunity to reframe several of the city’s most vexing challenges as opportunities within a public safety framework of community-resilience, disaster preparedness, and emergency management. With creativity, commitment to equity, and empirically-driven decision-making, we can address this diverse yet intersecting set of problems at the neighborhood scale.
- Bold Government for 21st Century Solutions
- Municipal broadband. As an international urban policy expert, Sarah is acutely aware that the internet in the United States is too expensive and too slow to have the democratizing effects that it has in other parts of the world. The small cartel of private internet utilities that service the Portland metro area are estimated to extract tens of millions of dollars per year in profits while being some of the most unpopular companies. The benefits to the city of a fast, reliable, and resilient publicly-owned network are enormous. With a public internet utility, the residents of Portland can be sure that their data isn’t being sold, their content isn’t being filtered, and that their money is staying local to recirculate in their community.
- Public bank. Absurd amounts of money are exported from our city directly to Wall Street every time we renovate a school building or build a new public building. If elected, Sarah’s administration will work to charter a municipal bank that can help local governments become financially independent of wealthy financiers and keep millions of dollars of public money circulating within our own community.
- Digital rights and sovereignty. Digital technology can be used in service of democracy or lead our society into authoritarian repression. The rapid pace of innovation represents an unprecedented challenge for communities, especially marginalized and Communities of Color for whom the deployment of emerging technologies can exacerbate economic and racial inequities. As Portlanders, we must come together in a robust dialogue about the the risks and opportunities of technology for our democratic institutions and for equity and inclusion, as well as privacy and data ownership for our residents. In 2016, the City of Portland applied for but did not win a federal challenge grant which propelled us into the global policy network of “Smart Cities.” Despite a well-intentioned focus on equity (an all too familiar refrain in Portland) in our Smart Cities investments, Sarah fears we are falling short of our mandate to implement a human and civil rights centric framework which protects the rights of Portlanders above profit-seeking from industry. Following the lead of cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, and NYC, we will craft Portland’s Technological Sovereignty and Digital Rights.
- Transparency and Accountability
- Robust project labor agreements (PLAs) for capital improvement projects built with public money. Despite gains under previous administrations, and despite advances on public projects from county and regional governments, the City of Portland under the current mayor has diluted the City’s Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) process on public investments, raising the project cost at which they could be applied ($25M) and applying to others a watered-down Community Equity and Inclusion Plan (CEIP) process. In no uncertain terms, this trend should be reversed to ensure our tax dollars work not only to build public infrastructure but serve to support minority and women in the trades and and growth of contracting companies owned by members of disadvantaged communities. We could follow the lead of cities such as Seattle, with its robust Community Workforce Agreements (CWA) process which includes lower project cost thresholds ($5M) as well as monthly oversight committee meetings to ensure compliance and accountability.
- Purchasing public process. In April 2019, the council doubled the Procurement Office’s contracting authority to a million dollars. In theory, that means the city could use $999,999 ($499,999 of services) without any public debate or discussion. The public has little ability to challenge (or even know about) city contracts if the Council does not discuss them. Some contracts have large policy, ethical, or quality-of-life implications. Sarah’s administration will review the efficacy of this change and will develop policies that still allow efficient council sessions while also requiring public discussion and debate for expenditures likely to be of interest to the public.
- Public records requests. Sarah will increase transparency in public records requests by claiming exemptions only when they are necessary to prevent harm or protect legitimate public interests, not political interests. Sarah will increase access to public records by charging predictable fees designed to encourage vigilance by the public and press, and to levy fees so as not to subsidize bulk data-mining by corporations. Further, Iannarone will provide low-cost access to anyone who requests records related to themselves or lost loved ones. Portland should treat the Police Bureau like other agencies; right now they keep a separate, outdated email system that is harder to search and easier to “lose” emails. PPB should transition to Office365 like the rest of the city bureaus. As mayor, Sarah will institute a $20 flat fee for any email search that captures fewer than 100 email documents (or if the requester agrees to a random sampling of 100 documents) and also provide public access to all records requests on a website (but allow the requestor to opt-in to a 72-hour embargo to protect journalists).
- Streamlined public complaint processes. The City provides many distinct services to the public from building permits, to police, to sewer and water pipes. Today, if a community member has reason to complain, they are subject to a huge variety in process across different services. Sarah’s administration will implement a single standard centralized process for community member complaints. Complaints will be tracked so it’s easy to know where it is in the process and all city departments will have published service level agreements including the expected time for each stage in a complaint. Complaint data will be compiled centrally and used for targeted policy changes and strategic investment.
- Soliciting public input that matters. Many of our local governments are good at soliciting community input. From there, results may vary. In some cases citizen input seems to be ignored completely, in other cases it is manipulated or cherry picked and used when it conveniently supports a preexisting preference. This uncertainty teaches the public that it is a waste of their time to participate. If elected, Sarah will work to change the city’s public engagement processes to provide community report backs explaining what the public input showed and how it was used in the final decision or outcome.
- Reclaiming Leadership in Civic Innovation
- Civic software for community engagement. We can use open source software to engage the expertise and lived experience of Portland’s residents. When there are more people than can fit in one location to converse with each other, a digital forum allows us to discuss issues, communicate directly with government, propose ideas, and even vote on them with the most discussed proposals being brought before city council for consideration. If participation has meaningful feedback from staff as to why a proposal isn't possible, then people see a purpose in contributing their time, intelligence, and creativity to a public forum directly integrated to municipal government. Participatory models that could be adapted for our city have been deployed in Reykjavík, Madrid, Barcelona, and Taiwan.
- Open for good ideas. The Obama White House hosted a feature called Open for Questions that allowed Americans to post questions publicly and users from across the country could upvote or downvote the ones they wanted to hear the White House address. The Obama White House committed to answering all questions that received above a certain threshold of popularity. Sarah will bring this style of digital engagement to Portland Mayor’s Office. Using this platform, Portlanders will be able to propose policies they think would improve their community and Sarah’s office will commit to researching and responding to the most popular ideas including next steps. Sarah saw this model in action at City Hall in Seoul, South Korea, and thinks it would work here in Portland.
- Startup culture of innovation can transform government services. Usually, a city agency drafts a Request for Proposals (RFP) that spells out exactly what the agency is looking for from vendors; then, the lowest bidder usually gets the contract. An innovation mindset encourages city bureaus and agencies to focus on problem-solving rather than business as usual. Following the model of Scotland’s CivTech, Portland can partner emerging entrepreneurs with government agencies to solve problems faster and more effectively while ensuring local contracting dollars go to emerging local startups.
- Move “City Hall”. There is no reason why Portlanders who want to engage with their City Council should need to travel downtown during the middle of the day to participate in a Council meeting. The current schedule has worked very well for some segments of the city and not at all for many others. Sarah’s administration will pilot a program of moving official City Council meetings to different locations and times around the city. Feedback from the pilot will be used to determine if permanent changes are warranted. In addition to having council meetings in other parts of the city, Sarah will work with local technologists and accessibility-focused and democracy-focused non-profits to enhance the virtual/remote experience of City Council meetings.