One current and one former member of the Board of Education, both of whom are also city employees, are challenging a personnel policy that would prevent them from running for a seat on the board in the future without giving up their city jobs.
Karen Callaghan, who was re-elected to the Board of Education this month, and Burt Edwards, who served on the board for 18 years, are named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against South Portland filed in Cumberland County Superior Court by their attorney, David A. Lourie of Cape Elizabeth.
The personnel policy, which was adopted in 2010, prohibits city employees from running for a Board of Education seat unless they resign from city employment. It broadens an existing policy that prohibits city employees from running for a City Council seat.
Edwards was told in 2010 that he could not run for a Board of Education seat unless he resigned his part-time job with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
In September, Callaghan, who has served on the board for four years, was told by City Clerk Susan Mooney that her name would not appear on the November ballot because it was in conflict with the policy.
The city backed down after Lourie contacted them. City Manager James Gailey told Callaghan she could run because the city was considering her position to be grandfathered — for the time being. But she will not be allowed to seek re-election when her term expires in three years.
“I see it as a graceful retreat,” Lourie said.
The lawsuit aims to have the policy overturned, contending it is unconstitutional.
In addition to preventing Callaghan and Edwards from seeking positions on the Board of Education, the city policy also would prohibit them from actively campaigning on behalf of other Board of Education or City Council candidates. While an employee still can sign a petition, that employee may not distribute campaign literature or signs or conduct political fundraisers.
Callaghan said she works 20 hours a week as an aide at the city library. She has served four years on the Board of Education.
“I was stunned. I had no idea,” Callaghan said.
Edwards said he works four hours a week at the Wainwright Field during the summer and at the city’s recreation center in winter. He has a full-time job in the private sector.
“I told the city, ‘Where did this (policy) come from?’” Edwards said. “I still think it infringes on my rights and one anyone else’s rights who wants to run for Board of Education.”
South Portland Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis defended the policy.
“When it first came up, I had a lot of questions. I didn’t support it lightly,” De Angelis said.
But after hearing arguments on both sides, the mayor said the policy makes sense to her.
Her concern is that a city employee might use the clout of their position to influence voters, she said.
“By taking a position of employment with the city you are giving up certain rights,” De Angelis said.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: