Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Press Herald

Portland council rejects latest proposal for elected mayor
By KELLEY BOUCHARD, Staff Writer Portland Press Herald Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The City Council soundly rejected a proposal Monday night that could have given Portland voters the ability to elect their mayor.

The 6-2 vote was no surprise to David Marshall and Kevin Donoghue, the councilors who co-sponsored the proposal. They promised to offer an alternative at the next council meeting, on March 19, that could lead to a citywide vote on the issue in November.

A handful of residents offered varied opinions on the issue, which crops up every few years and dates to the 1920s.

"The Portland Taxpayers' Association continues to believe that an elected mayor is the best thing for the city of Portland," said Steven Scharf, the association's president.

"Be careful what you wish for," said Robert Hains of Holm Avenue. "Electing a mayor is not as great as it may sound."

According to the city charter, Portland's nine councilors -- five representing districts and four elected at-large -- choose one of their own to be mayor.

Councilors typically take turns filling the job for one year. The mayor names council committees and runs meetings, but has few other powers or responsibilities.

The proposal by Marshall and Donoghue called for a task force to consider expanding the number of district councilors to eight and having a single at-large seat. The at-large councilor would be mayor, with no more power than any other councilor.

Marshall and Donoghue say a mayor who is elected by voters citywide to a three-year term would bring stability, accountability and legitimacy to City Hall leadership.

While some councilors acknowledged the intent of the proposal, none liked the idea of reducing the number of at-large councilors. Some said such a significant change should start with asking voters to elect a charter commission to review city government as a whole.

"The system we have works well," said Councilor Donna Carr, "but I'm always willing to look at it."

Councilor James Cohen said he believes Portland's council provides balanced leadership but lacks continuity of vision. "People are asking for a vision, and they're asking for that vision to last more than a year."

City attorney Gary Wood determined in 2004, when the taxpayers' group offered a similar proposal, that such changes could be considered without a charter commission.

Marshall and Donoghue said they aren't interested in having a partisan or strong-mayor form of government. They simply want the mayor to be elected by the people.

Marshall said they will propose an alternative on March 19 that would maintain five districts and three at-large council seats. The fourth at-large seat would become the mayor's position. A public hearing and vote on the proposal will be held on April 4, Marshall said.

If the council supports the changes, voters will be asked to consider them. If it doesn't,
Donoghue and Marshall said they plan to gather more than 5,000 signatures of registered voters in 120 days to put the issue on the November ballot.

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

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