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Voting to begin in Portland’s charter commission election

By Randy Billings

Portland voters could begin casting early ballots Tuesday to elect a group of residents who will review and recommend changes that could alter the city’s basic government structure, including the roles of the mayor and city manager and the makeup of the City Council.

With racial inequity and justice still at the forefront of the local and national dialogue, the charter commission members could recommend sweeping changes to the local government, including eliminating the city manager position for a strong executive mayor, extending voting rights in municipal elections to noncitizens, increasing representation on the City Council, increasing the pay of councilors, increasing citizen oversight over the police department, and possibly establishing a public advocate office.

A total of 22 candidates are seeking a seat at the table in the June 8 election, including 11 running for four at-large seats. 

The field is diverse, with ages ranging from 23 to 73. They include a full-time student and retirees, blue collar and service workers, small-business owners and a nonprofit executive. Some have no political experience, while one served three decades in office.

Four at-large members will be elected by voters citywide, and one member will be elected by voters in each of the five City Council districts. Those nine elected members will join three members already appointed by the council. And the 12-member panel will spend the next year reviewing the charter. Any recommended changes would have to be approved by the voters in a subsequent election in order to take effect.

There are 11 people seeking four at-large seats on the commission. And the winners will be chosen through ranked-choice voting, which means voters have the opportunity to rank as many of the 11 in order of preference as they want to.


Many of the at-large candidates are looking to create a stronger mayor position that would be responsible for drafting the initial city budget for the council to review. That task is currently assigned to the city manager, who is hired by the council and is supposed to work closely with the elected mayor and municipal departments. Some candidates envision keeping some sort of professional city administrator, while others would like the position gone entirely.

Portland voters last opened the charter for a review about a decade ago. The most significant change was creating a full-time elected mayor with a four-year term. However, the mayor was not given much additional power or executive control over city operations and those duties remained with the manager. Instead, the full-time mayor was envisioned as a way to better lead the council through collaboration and being the city’s voice on state and federal issues.

Many candidates are also looking to convert at-large seats on the council into district seats. Several are also advocating for the creation of smaller council districts that would better align with neighborhoods, arguing it would lead to a more responsive council.

And several would like to remove the City Council from the school budget process and allow the elected school board to send its budget directly to voters for approval.

The winners will join three members who were appointed by the City Council last summer: Efficiency Maine Deputy Director and former school board member Peter Eglinton, ACLU of Maine Policy Counsel Michael Kebede, and former City Councilor Dory Waxman, who also is founder of Community Threads and owner of Old Port Wool and Textile Co.

SOURCE: Portland Press Herald

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