The Portland Charter Commission has released its preliminary report, which is subject to public comment in writing through June 10, or in person at the City Council meeting at City Hall on the evening of June 10. After those comments, the commission will make any appropriate revisions and give a final report to the council on July 8, and those recommendations will be voted on in a November referendum.
The main highlights surround the position of mayor. Under this recommendation, the mayor would be elected in a city-wide vote using instant-runoff voting, and would receive a full-time salary.
What is the Portland Charter Commission?In November 2008, Portland voters approved the establishment of a Charter Commission to investigatepotential changes to Portland’s City Charter. The Commission includes nine elected members and threemembers appointed by the City Council. Since June 2009, the Charter Commission has met at least twice permonth to consider whether changes should be made to Portland’s form of government.
What is the Charter Commission recommending?After extensive input from members of the public and municipal experts, the Commission issued itsPreliminary Report on May 21st recommending three separate Charter changes:Question 1: Would allow for a popularly elected, full-time MayorQuestion 2: Would strengthen the roles and responsibilities of the School CommitteeQuestion 3: Would make technical changes to clarify and update the Charter
Why is the Commission recommending a full-time, elected Mayor?Currently, Portland’s City Council annually chooses one of its members to serve as mayor for a largelyceremonial one-year term. The Commission believes this system should change to permit Portland voters todirectly elect our Mayor for a four-year term.> Direct election by the voters ensures that our Mayor is directly accountable to the people.> Direct election establishes the Mayor as the policy and political leader of Portland both locally and onthe regional and national level.> A directly elected mayor provides the leadership needed to enable Portland to respond to change in anincreasingly complex and fast-moving world.
The elected Mayor will be Portland’s political leader.The elected Mayor will be Portland’s political leader and chief representative. The Mayor will articulate andfurther the city’s vision; give an annual State of the City address; continue to chair Council meetings and voteas a member of the Council; oversee implementation of City policies; direct preparation and facilitate adoptionof City budgets; lead the process for hiring, dismissal and evaluation of the City Manager, CorporationCounsel, and City Clerk; and be responsible for appointing City Council and ad hoc committees.
The City Manager will continue to manage Portland’s day-to-day operations.Portland’s City Manager will remain as the City’s chief executive officer. The Manager will continue to draftthe City budget and oversee day-to-day operations in Portland. Across the United States, nearly two-thirds ofall City Manager forms of government allow for direct election of their mayor.
The Mayor’s salary will be benchmarked to median household income.As proposed, the Mayor’s salary would be set by the City Council at a level at least equal to 1.5 timesPortland’s median household income, plus customary City benefits. If the election were held today, theminimum salary would be $67,359.
The Mayoral term will be four years, starting November 2011.The Mayor would assume the at-large City Council seat up for election in November 2011. The Mayor’s termwould be for four years and be limited to two consecutive four-year terms. With a four-year term, the Mayorwill have enough time to implement the vision articulated to voters during the mayoral election.
Election of the Mayor will require a majority vote of the people.The Mayor should speak for a majority (at least 50%) of Portland voters. The Commission determined that thebest way to accomplish this was to elect the Mayor through “Ranked Choice Voting.” Under RCV, voters rankthe mayoral candidates on the ballot in order of preference. If one candidate receives more than 50% of thevote, that person is the winner. If no candidate receives 50%, then the last place candidate is automaticallydropped off and that candidate’s second-choice votes are redistributed to the remaining candidates. Thisprocess continues until one candidate receives a majority of the vote. RCV avoids the need for time-consumingand expensive runoff elections, and promotes greater civility in campaigns.
What recommendations are being made concerning the School Committee?The Commission focused on improving the relationship between the School Committee and City Council,particularly with regard to the School Budget process. Recommendations include adding “sound fiscalmanagement” to the School Committee’s responsibilities; requiring regular budgetary meetings between thetwo organizations; requiring a regular address to the City Council on the State of the School system;establishing parity between the pay scales of the City Council and the School Committee; and changing thename of the School Committee to the “Board of Public Education.”
What technical changes to the Charter are being recommended?Since the Charter has not been reviewed in almost 25 years, many details are out of date or require clarification.Based on suggestions submitted by all city departments, the Commission recommends various language andadministrative changes to the Charter. Most changes are technical. The primary substantive change is tomodify the recall process for district councilors and school committee members by requiring: (1) signatures torecall a district member come only from voters in that member’s district; (2) the number of petition signaturesrequired to recall a district member be one-half of that required for at-large members; and (3) only districtvoters may vote in a recall election for a district member.
How can I comment on the Commission’s recommendations?On May 21, 2010, the Commission published a Preliminary Report on its recommendations, copies of whichare available at http://www.portlandmaine.gov/charter/chartercommission.asp, at City Hall, and the PortlandPublic Library. The public is invited to comment on the recommendations. On June 10, there will be a publichearing on this Preliminary Report in City Council chambers, and by July 8, the Commission will pass its finalset of recommendations and submit them to the City Council. The public will then vote on thoserecommendations at the November 2010 election.