Saturday, March 03, 2007

Press Herald

Elected-mayor idea resurrected
Portland Press Herald
Saturday, March 3, 2007

Two city councilors are pushing a proposal that would give Portland voters the ability to elect their mayor.

Councilors Kevin Donoghue and David Marshall say they're responding to constituents' concerns and their own desire to bring stability, accountability and legitimacy to City Hall leadership.

"I also think it's important for the people to have a witness in City Hall on a day-to-day basis," Marshall said on Friday.

Donoghue and Marshall have cosponsored a proposal to be considered at Monday's council meeting, at 7 p.m. at City Hall. However, they hope to amend the proposal and postpone action until the next council meeting, on March 19.

Ultimately, they want a citywide vote on a question that has been posed to Portland residents in the past, always with the same result.

According to the city charter, the nine councilors -- five from districts and four at-large -- elect one of their own to serve as mayor.

Councilors typically take turns filling the job for a year. The mayor has few additional powers or responsibilities, other than naming council committees and running council meetings.

Donoghue's and Marshall's proposal calls for expanding the number of district councilors to eight and reducing the at-large seats to one. The single at-large position would be the mayor, who would still have no more power than any other councilor.

City attorney Gary Wood determined in 2004, when the Portland Taxpayers' Association offered a similar proposal, that such changes could be considered without a charter commission being formed to overhaul the entire city government.

However, because they found little council support for increasing the number of voting districts, Donoghue and Marshall said they plan to amend their proposal at Monday's meeting.

They want to maintain five district seats and three at-large seats. The fourth at-large seat would be the mayor's position and come with a three-year term, like the rest of the council. In the future, Marshall said, he would like the mayor's job to be a full-time, salaried position. The mayor and councilors now get small stipends.

If the council supports the changes, voters will be asked to consider them in a citywide election. If not, Donoghue and Marshall plan to gather more than 5,000 signatures of registered voters in 120 days to put the issue on the November ballot.

Some councilors question whether Donoghue's and Marshall's proposal would win widespread support or accomplish their goals.

"The last time this came up, it didn't get a lot of votes," said Councilor James Cloutier. "There's not a deep well of hope out there for this."

Portland voters haven't elected a mayor since 1923, when they got rid of a strong-mayor form of government with a Board of Aldermen and a Common Council. Today, the mayor is effectively chairman of the council. The city's executive is the city manager.

Portland has reconsidered the issue several times. The last was in November 1997, when 62 percent of voters rejected a proposal to create a charter commission. The ballot question didn't specifically mention having an elected mayor, but it was the focus of intense campaigning on both sides of the issue.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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