Portland begins process of picking Charter Commission members

Barring a special election, voters won't choose members of the commission until June 2021

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Despite pushback from some city residents, the Portland City Council on Monday night unanimously established an ad hoc committee to nominate appointees to a new Charter Commission.

The committee members selected by Mayor Kate Snyder, after she said she had individual discussions with all the councilors, are Councilors Nick Mavodones, Pious Ali, and Tae Chong, and Snyder. The committee was scheduled to hold its first meeting Tuesday afternoon, July 28.

The panel will send names to the full City Council, which will appoint three individuals to the commission. Appointees do not have to be city residents, and only one can be a municipal employee, Snyder said.

Mayor Kate Snyder, lower left, and Portland city councilors during their remote meeting Monday, July 27. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

City voters are expected to elect nine additional commission members: one from each of the city’s five voting districts, and four at-large members.

But it is unlikely there will be an election before next year. City Clerk Katherine Jones last week said the time required for candidates to get on the Nov. 3 General Election ballot means the commission election cannot be held this November.

According to a memo from the city corporation counsel, nomination papers for these positions must be available 127 days before the election. That means the commission vote can’t be held until the June 2021 regular municipal election, or on an interim special election date chosen by the council.

The ad hoc appointment committee will return with a slate of candidates at the Aug. 10 council meeting. Councilors will have to vote to approve those candidates the same night, since it must appoint its three members no later than Aug. 14, or 30 days after the July 14 vote that established the commission.

“We don’t have the luxury of time at all,” Snyder said Monday. “This is all a condensed time period.”

The council on Aug. 10 is also expected to discuss the next steps for holding the citywide Charter Commission election.

Several members of the public spoke out for Ali, who with Councilor Jill Duson serves on the city’s legislative and nominating committee. That committee was initially eyed to make the recommendations for the commission makeup. But Snyder, defending her decision to name an ad hoc panel, said some members of the committee expressed interest in possibly serving on the commission, which would have been a conflict of interest.

Ali said he told Snyder last week he did not want to be considered for an appointment to the Charter Commission and does not intend to run for an elected seat on the commission.

Duson, who is retiring when her term ends, said she has no interest in being appointed to the Charter Commission or running for it. She also said serving on the ad hoc committee or the council should not exclude councilors from running for the Charter Commission.

“I think the voters should be able to select whomever they want,” she said. “We shouldn’t take eight to nine names off the table.”

City resident Jon Torsch, speaking during a public comment portion, nonetheless said the council was willfully “blocking change” by having Snyder appoint ad hoc committee members. He said Snyder opposed the creation of the commission in the first place, so voters can’t trust her to make appointments that would lead to effective change.

Snyder said she was not “plucking names out of a hat,” but rather wanted to make sure the ad hoc committee was representative of the council and had people willing to do the work.

Councilor Justin Costa said this plan “makes plenty of sense,” and reminded people the council has a legal obligation to appoint three Charter Commission members.

“I think this makes as much sense as anything else,” Costa said. “We need to take a breath and stay grounded here.”

Members of the public who wish to be considered by the ad hoc committee as one of the council’s appointees to the Charter Commission must send a cover letter and resume to the city clerk’s office no later than noon Monday, Aug. 3.

Candidates for election to the Charter Commission run without political party affiliation and must obtain 300-500 signatures from registered voters for an at-large seat and 75-150 signatures for a district seat.

The last such commission was established more than a decade ago, and ultimately replaced the city’s appointed, ceremonial mayor with a popularly elected mayor. That commission also established ranked-choice voting in Portland.