Portland Charter Commission sticks to proposal for executive mayor

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The Charter Commission is poised to send voters a proposal for an executive mayor after rejecting an amendment to keep the mayor a voting member of the City Council.

The amendment proposed by Commissioner Marpheen Chann was a revised version of the proposal that originally came from the commission’s governance committee, and would have also preserved some of the authority currently held by the city manager.

Portland City Hall
Portland City Hall

The amendment was defeated 7-4 on June 8, with Chann joined by Commissioners Ryan Lizanecz, Dory Waxman, and Peter Eglinton in the minority.

The commission also held a first reading of an amendment by Commissioner Robert O’Brien to the executive mayor proposal the commission included in its preliminary report. Under O’Brien’s amendment, the council would have the authority to remove the mayor from office by a super-majority vote – nine of the 12 councilors. It also would replace a proposed executive committee with a council chair and vice chair.

O’Brien said these changes would prevent a “wackadoo” or “bogeyman” mayor from abusing the office. He said they also create a clearer distinction between policy decisions and operational decisions.

He specifically cited recent circumstances where the city manager has acted autonomously: the decision to move food trucks from the top of the Eastern Promenade to a Cutter Street parking lot, and where to provide housing for asylum seekers.

“These were decisions made by an administrator and not an elected leader,” O’Brien said.

Commissioners are likely to vote on the amendment on June 22.

The Commission also voted on a series of amendments related to clean elections by Commissioner Catherine Buxton. It unanimously approved requiring clean elections to be in place for the November 2023 elections, which will be a mayoral election year.

Commissioners voted 8-2 to ban foreign contributions for ballot questions, with Eglinton and O’Brien opposed, and they voted unanimously to allow the City Council to adopt other rules deemed necessary regarding campaign spending.

They also discussed how to bundle City Charter questions on the November ballot.

There are already four unrelated referendum questions that will be on the ballot, and Chairman Michael Kebede said he wanted to limit the number of questions the Commission sends voters to no more than six, there are no more than 10 local referendum questions before voters.

O’Brien proposed a three-question limit, with the governance proposals bundled.

Commission attorney James Katsiaficas previously advised the panel to bundle some questions, including the executive mayor proposal and increasing the size of the council, because they are closely related.

Waxman opposed bundling the governance proposals, saying it was “ludicrous” to ignore the work the commission put into each one.

“I worry there’s some pretty good work here that’s going to get lost because it will all get lumped into one question,” she said.

Commissioners did not make any final decisions, and they were also advised by Katsiaficas that they could have a minority report on the governance proposal from those who vote against it.