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The City of Portland, Oregon

Auditor Simone Rede

Promoting open and accountable government

Frequently Asked Questions - Ballot Measures

"Can city employee work time be used to advocate for a Council referred ballot measure?"
NO - Once the issue is certified to the ballot, no public employee work time may be used to redistribute any material that advocates a political position on the measure. City employees may not use city resources for any type of political activity during working hours, including but not limited to, interoffice mail, telephone, FAX machine, Internet, email or photocopy machines to advocate for or against the measure.
While city employees are not prohibited from any discussion of the subject of the measure, a distinction must be made between an action that supports or opposes the measure and the performance of duties normally expected to be required of a public employee as part of his or her job.
(ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rules 4.06, 4.08 & 4.09)
"Can city employee work time and/or city resources be used to research and prepare a Council referred ballot measure?"
YES - City employees may engage in research, public meetings, surveys and other actions to aid in the Council decision making process of whether to put a specific issue on the ballot. Once the issue is certified to the ballot however, no public employee work time or resources may be used to redistribute any material that advocates a political position on the measure.
(ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rules 4.06, 4.08 & 4.09)
"Do these restrictions apply to initiative and referendum petitions?"
YES - More so. While the restrictions against political activity apply to Council referred measures after they are certified to the ballot, they apply to initiative and referendum petitions from the date the prospective petition is filed with the Auditor and throughout the signature gathering process. This is because any communications made by public employees at this time could also affect the petition circulation process.
(ORS 260.432)
"Can city employees provide any information about ballot measures?"
YES - City employees may provide information related to a measure as long as the information is factual, unbiased and appropriate to the usual conduct of city business. Any analysis must be fairly presented to include only factual information, not speculation. Further, the analysis cannot be one-sided, but must provide a balance of information. A public employee presenting impartial information about a ballot measure on their work time or official capacity must follow similar standards for impartiality as outlined for written materials. Courts strictly interpret this restriction. Any information prepared concerning the anticipated effect of a measure should be submitted to the City Attorney's Office for review before distribution.
(ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rule 4.06)
"Can a city employee attend meetings where a measure is discussed?"
YES - with caution. It is possible that a public employee may be present at a meeting, along with a mixture of people, some of whom are not public employees and so are not bound by the same rules as public employees.
If discussion concerning campaigning for or against a measure are part of a pre-planned agenda, then the public employees should not participate in those activities, which could involve the need to leave the room. For more ad hoc discussions that may arise when a non-public employee decided to advocate for the measure, unless it becomes extensive, the public employee is not required to leave the room, but they should not join in those activities or discussions, other than to offer impartial information if needed.
If the public employee is to be part of a panel of speakers, the facilitator should announce that the public employee involved may not advocate on work time and is only there to provide impartial information.
If the employee is not attending on their work time or in their official capacity, they may themselves announce that they are on their own time and so not be under these restrictions.
(ORS 260.432)
"How do I determine whether material is campaign advocacy?"
Refer to the Secretary of State's publication, Restrictions on Political Campaigning by Public Employees . Some factors that will be considered in making the determination of whether the material is advocacy include: the timing of the publication; explicitly urging a yes or no vote; balance of factual information; overall impression; the tone of the publication; personalization; use the words "will" or "need"; headings, other words or phrases that lend a positive (or negative) tone; quotes about the measure; formatting used to emphasize (or de-emphasize) information; phrases similar to campaign slogans; contact information for political committees; inclusion of an elected officials' position on the measure. The City Elections Officer & City Attorney can also provide guidance in determining whether material may be considered advocacy.
(ORS 260.432)