City Council appoints 3 to Portland Charter Commission; election date remains up in the air

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Portland city councilors on Monday unanimously approved three appointees to the upcoming Charter Commission.

The appointees, nominated by an ad hoc committee that spent about a week and a half considering nearly 40 candidates and conducting several interviews, are Michael Kebede, Peter Eglinton, and Dory Waxman.

Kebede, policy counsel for the ACLU of Maine, spoke during public comment to say he was grateful to have been selected.

“I approach this responsibility with solemnity and seriousness,” he said.

Brian Marshall and Joby Thoyalil both said they were former colleagues of Kebede, and said he was the right person to be appointed.

Portland city councilors and city staff during the Aug. 10 meeting where three people were appointed to the upcoming Charter Commission. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

Marshall said Kebede has “an outstanding legal mind” and is “in touch with a lot of different parts of the community.”

Thoyalil said Kebede works collaboratively with a wide variety of audiences.

“I find him brilliant and very thoughtful,” Thoyalil said.

Eglinton and Waxman did not speak to the council, and no members of the public spoke about them specifically.

Eglinton is the deputy director of the Efficiency Maine Trust. He was the chief operations officer for Portland Public Schools from 2012-2014, served on the School Board from 2007-2010, and was the board chair from 2008-2010. He also served on the School Department’s comprehensive plan steering committee.

“I have lived in Portland for 19 years and have worked extensively with Portland Public Schools and City of Portland staff and elected officials as well as with community stakeholders,” Eglinton wrote in a letter to the ad hoc committee. “Many of the issues have been challenging; many have also been quite rewarding.”

Waxman is the founder and executive director for Common Threads of Maine, founder of American Roots Wear, and the founder and owner of Old Port Wool & Textile Co. She served as the community outreach coordinator for Northern Utilities, was a Bayside neighborhood community organizer, and was the co-director of the Portland YMCA Family Center. Waxman was an at-large city councilor from 2008-2011, and the District 3 representative on the School Board from 1995-1998.

“I will hope to bring a common sense, clear and thoughtful voice to this task by bringing my experience, my honesty and respect for process, my love for the City of Portland and her wellbeing as well as a listening ear and open heart to facilitate changes if deemed appropriate,” Waxman wrote to the council.

The council was required to appoint three members to the Charter Commission within 30 days of the July 14 referendum vote that established the commission.

City resident George Rheault spoke Monday against the process by which these appointees were chosen. He noted the 36 other applicants’ names were not disclosed and their resumes not made public, and said the city’s defense that these are personnel matters and therefore not public information is “patently ridiculous” since Charter Commission members are not city employees.

Rheault also said the council was doing no more than the “bare minimum” to ensure the Charter Commission process goes the way they want it to “without completely losing face.” He said the ad hoc committee selected “two deeply connected insiders” in Eglinton and Waxman, while Kebede is someone who is relatively new to Portland.

Councilors also approved the manner in which the remaining members of the Charter Commission will be elected: one member from each of the city’s five districts, and four at-large members, for a total of 12 commission members.

When the commission election will be held remains unclear. Mayor Kate Snyder requested more information for councilors at their Aug. 31 meeting.

But per state statute, nomination papers for the Charter Commission seats must be available for 127 days prior to the election. Because of the timing for the July 14 vote that established the commission in the first place, there hasn’t been enough time to meet that threshold for the November ballot.

Anna Keller, executive director of the League of Women Voters, told councilors the unprecedented support for the commission was a sign of urgency, and that it is important to ensure the most people possible could participate in the process. Keller, who is also a member of Fair Elections Portland, which effectively got the Charter Commission question on the ballot in the first place, said that organization is not sure the city can’t get the election on the November ballot.

Keller said the city would save money by not having to hold a special election, and would also ensure the most participation since the general election is in November. Only about 3,500 voters turned out for the June 2009 election, Keller said, when the last Charter Commission was established.

Earlier in the meeting, Rheault said it wasn’t appropriate for the council to appoint the three members in August, and then have to wait several months or close to a year for the nine other commission candidates to find out if they are elected.

The council could schedule a special election at any point in the year as long as the 127-day threshold is met, or it could wait to hold that vote at the already scheduled June special election.