The Portland City Council is working to develop ordinances for a new ethics commission and civilian police review board approved by voters last fall, but it’s likely to still be several months before the groups are operational.
The council on Wednesday held a workshop to discuss first steps after the board and commission were approved at the recommendation of the Charter Commission in November.
There’s no firm deadline for when the two must be in place, though city charter language will be updated July 1 to reflect the approvals. Attorneys working on the plans told the council that they foresee finalizing the ordinance details over the next few months.
The ethics commission will be charged with recommending a code of ethics for elected and appointed officials and city employees, reviewing the code every three years, rendering written decisions regarding alleged violations of the code of ethics and issuing advisory opinions on questions pertaining to the city charter, code of ethics and council rules.
Jim Katsiaficas, an attorney who worked with the charter commission on their proposals and is working with the city on developing its ordinance, said the council will have a two-step process of creating the ordinance establishing the commission, and then later approving the code of ethics recommended by the commission.
“We suggest the first step is to work on a draft, take it to workshop and have a first read perhaps in August and a second read in September,” Katsiaficas said. “That way we will be ready and queued up for the ethics commission to come back with (the code) later in the year.”
The civilian police review board will replace the existing police civilian review subcommittee once a new ordinance is adopted, but their work will be similar and include a review of internal affairs investigations for due process issues, Associate Corporation Counsel Rachel Millette told the council.
Millette said the council will need to work out questions about whether school department employees and school board members could be eligible to serve on the new board – an issue that recently came up on the existing subcommittee – and what the process will be for appealing decisions. The charter says appeals could either go to the council itself or a body it creates or designates.
Councilors seemed hesitant to exclude school employees or school board members from serving on the board, and several said they are also in favor of reducing a wait period currently in city code that says present or former city employees and City Council members are prohibited from serving on the subcommittee for 10 years after their service with the city.
“The 10 year bar doesn’t work for me,” Councilor Mark Dion said. “I think a reduction in that number makes sense … In terms of who should participate in this board, I’m not particularly concerned about whether someone is affiliated with the school department, municipal government or the private sector, or the general citizenry.
“My question is whether they represent a policy position. An elected official, a director of an agency, or someone who exercises policy, I would exclude.”
Some councilors also said they would be fine with appeals coming to the council, though Mayor Kate Snyder raised questions about whether councilors would have enough time to handle such appeals. “To be an arbiter, even of an advisory judgement – it’s also something I would want to think about over the next few months, because it’s pretty weighty,” Snyder said.
Millette said she is hoping to bring a draft of the ordinance to the existing subcommittee for their feedback in July and would also provide it to police unions for their feedback, though bargaining would not be required, and the council could review it this fall.