Portland City Council Explains 2019 Clean Election Vote To Court
Portland City Council voted unanimously on Monday to approve a statement to Maine’s highest court, justifying a 2019 decision not to put a citizen referendum on the ballot to create a public funding program for municipal candidates .
Fair Elections Portland, which led the citizens’ initiative to create a clean local elections program, sued the city over its decision two years ago to require the proposal to first be considered by a commission charged with the charter, an ongoing process. After losing in lower court, Fair Elections Portland appealed to the Maine Supreme Court, which ordered the city to formally articulate its rationale before deciding the case.
Supporters of a clean municipal election program on Monday essentially urged councilors to reject the previous ruling and reconsider the arguments.
“I encourage you not to just duplicate the same mistake that was made two years ago and instead let it go ahead and not challenge it in the courts and finally let people have their say. the ballot, âsaid Anna Kellar, Portland’s Fair Election chairman.
But a city lawyer and councilors, including those who support a clean election program, argued the approach was outside of what the court ordered.
âWe are not debating whether this should have been or could have been a review or an amendment,â said Mayor Kate Snyder, who took office after council made its decision in 2019. âIt is come.”
Company partner Jennifer Thompson said the city is simply following state laws to amend a city charter, which is essentially the constitution of a municipality.
Before being elected to city council, April Fournier was one of 13 residents to file a complaint against the city, although she is in the process of withdrawing from the lawsuit. Fournier had previously said she would not recuse herself from the discussion, as the city attorney recommended, as she technically did not have a conflict of interest.
But on Monday, she changed course and withdrew from the discussion, so it wouldn’t be a distraction.
Fair Elections Portland’s proposal would create a local funding option for municipal candidates, similar to the state’s own election program, which can be used in legislative races for governor and state. Such programs provide taxpayer money to fund candidate campaigns that limit the amount of private donations. The state program requires applicants to collect a number of initial donations to justify their support in order to qualify for public funding.
Advocates, who collected more than 6,800 signatures to put the question on the ballot, say clean election platforms reduce barriers – especially high costs – people face when running for office . Public funding, they say, allows candidates to spend more time talking to voters, rather than potential contributors.
After deciding the proposal couldn’t go straight to the ballot, the council asked voters if they wanted to create a charter commission to look into the issue. Voters approved the concept in July 2020 and elected members in June. The commission is currently studying the matter.
Findings approved on Monday explain that an annual funding requirement would be a fundamental change in municipal government, as it could cripple the board and manager when making budget decisions. The city says no other municipal service or school operation is required to have a specific or “sufficient” level of funding, as the clean election program would.
FINANCING A KEY ISSUE
“If approved, the change proposed by the petitioners would not only require the city to create a campaign fundraising program, but also to allocate and, therefore, prioritize funding for that program over others. city ââoperations, âthe city said in its findings. âUnder the proposal, in times of financial hardship, requiring election campaigns to be adequately funded from public funds, a future city council would be required to increase campaign funding relative to the operation of emergency services,â snow removal or school operations. “
Lawyers tried to convince councilors to reconsider the 2019 ruling.
John Brautigam, an attorney representing Fair Elections Portland, sent councilors another finding of fact ahead of the meeting, as well as an overview of other areas of the city’s charter that define fundraising mandates. His submission included an estimate that a clean election program would cost between $ 100,000 and $ 300,000 per year, or about 0.1% of the city’s $ 268 million budget.
Brautigam argued the court was skeptical of the city’s arguments. He suggested that repackaging the city’s previous legal arguments was like putting âthe same old beer in a new bottleâ.
“The court had all of this information and said it was wrong,” he said.
Only four of the nine council members were in office when the 2019 decision was taken to require the citizens’ initiative to first be reviewed by a charter committee before being put on the ballot. But the new advisers said they had reviewed videos of the meetings and public records of that debate.
They agreed that the findings accurately reflected the rationale of the previous board.
“There is no doubt that was their logic,” said Councilor Andrew Zarro. âThat’s what they did.
Maine inmate who graduated from prison released earlier