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Thursday, October 10, 2013

New Ballot Language for a Proposed Water District Calls Out Its Ambiguities

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, Oct 10, 2013 at 12:44 PM

The official face of a measure that would take sewer and water bureaus away from Portland City Council got a hefty dose of Botox today.

After hearing arguments from three attorneys last week, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Roberts this morning released final ballot language for a proposal to put the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services into the hands of a new elected board.

It's dull legalese, but Roberts' changes to the proposed language—crafted months ago by the Portland City Attorney's Office before being challenged—are substantial, and speak to concerns by both opponents and supporters of the push.

They also make explicit reference to ambiguities in the measure's verbiage—specifically the notion that voting districts for the seven-member board would be "coextensive" with those for Portland Public Schools board members. That's a potential problem according to opponents, since PPS boundaries leave out whole swaths of the East Portland. Backers insist the language just provides loose guidelines.

Roberts' new ballot title scraps the word "coextensive," which appears several times in the measure, and instead describes zones "approximating Portland Public School zones (area outside Portland Public School District not addressed)."

The judge also scrubbed the descriptor "independent agency" from the ballot, agreeing with a challenger that had too positive a connotation. The language now says the district is "outside City Council or City Auditor supervision."

And she took out a sentence saying the district "cannot 'regionalize or privatize'" water or sewer service. Finding those terms either vague or unnecessary. The ballot now says the proposed board could not make watershed regulations "less 'protective,' by undefined standard."

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