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Portland Charter Commission Gains Control Over $75K Budget

by | Aug 28, 2021 | Featured, News

A scheduled meeting between City Manager Jon Jennings and several Charter Commissioners was cancelled after budget questions the Commission sought to have answered were resolved, according to statements made by Charter Commission Chairman Michael Kebede at an August 25 meeting of the full Commission. 

In an email to Kebede hours before the meeting, Jennings stated that $75,000 earmarked to support the Charter Commission’s work would be turned over to the Commission to use as they saw fit, adding that any further questions on this or other issues should be directed exclusively through the City Clerk.

Portland Charter Commission Chair Michael Kedebe

These funds were originally requested by Corporation Counsel Daniel West as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget and were intended to be managed through her office to cover legal fees. The previous Charter Commission was supported by an attorney employed by the City who provided services at a steeply discounted rate, according to West, who said her office did not have the capacity to provide this level of support this time around. The City hired Attorney James Katsiaficas to fill this role without consulting the Commission on its own budget projections, prompting Commissioners to raise concerns about how the rest of their work would be funded.

Kebede said the Commission would spend some of the money on legal fees while keeping other options open. “This amount of money is a greater sum than the previous Charter Commission had, and that’s something to be happy about,” Kebede said.

At the August 25 meeting, the Commission also agreed to abide by a more robust conflict of interest policy than is currently in place for City officials. Commissioner Zack Barowitz proposed a policy that all Commissioners and any consultants providing input on Commission business will complete public disclosure forms to be posted on the Charter Commission website. The City’s conflict of interest policy is an area of reform the Commission has identified. “I think it should be handled city-wide at a more rigorous level than it currently is, but since it is not, we can set a good example,” Commissioner Pat Washburn said. Use of the policy will be voluntary.

The previous Charter Commission raised conflict of interest concerns about Commissioners concurrently serving on the Charter Commission and City Committees. The current commission has one Commissioner, Marpheen Chann, serving on another Committee, that is, the Portland Planning Board.

Committee Appointments presented by Chairman Kebede and Vice Chairman Stewart-Bouley passed unanimously, and a schedule of future meetings was set. Committee Chairs will be determined by the Committees.

Portland Chater Commission Vice Chairman Shay Stewart-Bouley, FB

Governance Committee: Sheikh-Yousef, Lizanecz, O’Brien, Stewart-Bouley – Meetings: 2nd & 4th Wednesdays of the month. Next Meeting: September 8

Education Committee: Houston, Egglington, Chann – Meetings: 1st & 3rd Wednesday of the month. Next Meeting: September 1

Elections Committee: Buxton, Chann, Washburn – Meetings: 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month. Next Meeting: September 7

Procedures Committee: Barowitz, Waxman, Kebede, Washburn – Meetings: 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month. Next Meeting: September 14

Departments Committee: Houston, Lizanecz, Barowitz – Meetings: 1st and 3rd Mondays of the month. Next Meeting: September 6

The full Commission will meet next on October 27th. All meetings of the Charter Commission and Committees will be posted in the City’s Agenda Center with 10 days notice to the public.

Kate Sykes is a writer, editor, and community organizer in Portland, Maine. She is co-chair of the Maine DSA Electoral Committee, and an organizer with People First Portland.

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