PORTLAND — The city’s Charter Commission approved a package of changes to city government Thursday night, recommending a popularly elected mayor chosen by ranked choice voting and a new name for the School Committee – the Board of Public Education.

The 8-1 vote authorized the commission to publish its preliminary report on May 21. After a public hearing June 10, commissioners will hold a final vote on the changes July 8 before forwarding their final report to the City Council.

Voters will vote to accept or reject the charter changes during the November elections.

Commissioners have said the preliminary report is the final statement of what they have agreed to support. It will change only if the public convinces a majority of the commissioners to change their position.

The commission started meeting nine months ago. Public attendance at nearly all of its meetings was light. On Thursday night, 10 residents showed up at City Hall.

“We’re delighted to see a larger audience here tonight well at least larger than usual,” said Chairwoman Pamela Plumb.

Comments ran the gamut, from one person who thought the mayor would be given too much power to others who urged the commission to expand the mayor’s powers.

Mark Usinger said the city needs more effective management, not a mayor. “We’re not going to solve problems in this city with an elected mayor.”

The commission is recommending that the city charter be amended to allow for a popularly elected mayor, rather than a mayor elected annually by the City Council.

The mayor would also serve on the council, taking the at-large seat held now by Councilor Dory Waxman.

The mayor, who would receive a full-time salary, would serve for four years, with the first election in November 2011.

The mayor would be elected through a system called ranked-choice voting – a series of run-off elections, tallied in rounds.

Tom Valleau, the only member to vote against the preliminary report, and Richard Ranaghan Jr. oppose an elected mayor. They plan to issue a minority report.

Ranaghan made a motion to attach a note to the ballot question informing voters that the additional cost of an elected mayor would be $100,000 a year.

If the mayor’s salary were to be set today under the commission’s guidelines — based on Portland’s median household income — the mayor would be paid a minimum of $67,359 a year.

“A round number of $100,000, I don’t think that is unreasonable,” Ranaghan said.

James Cohen opposed the motion, saying it could mislead residents into believing their taxes would go up when in fact an elected mayor might benefit the city by bringing grant money and new businesses to the city.

“We don’t really know what the effect of this proposal on the city budget is going to be. We can’t quantify what the benefits of having an elected mayor will be yet,” Cohen said.

“Put a number on the ballot and be proud and strong enough to say this proposal will increase costs,” Ranaghan said. “We should not be afraid to put out there that there will be a cost to this.”

Ranaghan’s motion was defeated.

Commissioners Naomi Mermin and James Gooch were unable to attend Thursday’s meeting.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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