PORTLAND — Vacations messed up the City Council’s agenda Monday night.

Two very different issues – a bond to help pay for repairs to the nearly century-old Kotzschmar Organ and a proposal to give more signature-gathering time to supporters of a referendum aiming to ease enforcement of marijuana possession laws – both required seven votes to pass Monday. But councilors Dory Waxman, John Coyne and Cheryl Leeman were all off for R&R, leaving only six councilors on hand.

Both matters will be resurrected soon, however.

The organ bond was put off until Sept. 7, the council’s first meeting after Labor Day and the traditional end to summer and all those vacations.

The council did vote Monday to keep a $2 per ticket surcharge on events at Merrill Auditorium in City Hall – which houses the Kotzschmar – that required just five votes to pass. If the council musters the seven votes to approve the $1.5 million bond, that surcharge – which has been in place for 16 years to help pay for a 1995 renovation of the auditorium – will go toward paying off the bond. The $2.3 million loan for the renovation is a few months from being paid off, city officials said.

Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ said the instrument was damaged when it was moved from the auditorium for the renovation and reinstalled. The wind chest, which forces air through the organ’s pipes, leaks; the pipes don’t seat properly on top of the wind chest; and the pipes all need to be cleaned, the group said.

Friends of the Kotzschmar will raise $1.25 million privately for half the cost of the repairs, which it hopes to begin after one last concert next August when the organ turns 100. If the bond is approved, the city would match that amount. The bond also includes money for upgrades of the auditorium’s light and sound package and some other maintenance items in the hall.

The proposal for more signature-gathering time for the marijuana referendum will be addressed at the council’s next meeting Aug. 15. It will still need seven votes, however, to take effect immediately and have an impact on the referendum effort.

Councilor David A. Marshall is backing a change in city rules that would give those proposing a referendum 10 additional days to get signatures. The extra time would apply when the petitions contain at least the minimum number of names, but have enough invalidated to leave the proposal short of the total needed to put the question on the ballot.

Marshall said that change would align city rules with state law, which allows the added time.

The referendum would tell police to make enforcing marijuana possession laws a low priority. The measure says police should refrain from arresting or fining someone with small amounts of marijuana unless that person is committing a violent crime or has been convicted of violent acts in the past.

Sensible Portland, which is backing the referendum, turned in petitions with 2,100 signatures July 5, more than a month ahead of their Aug. 15 deadline. But city officials invalidated more than one-third of the signatures, leaving Sensible Portland 93 signatures short of the number needed.

If Marshall’s proposal is adopted as an emergency and takes effect Aug. 15, Sensible Portland would get the 10 additional days to get more names.

If it passes with fewer than seven votes, however, the law change would take effect Sept. 15, too late to meet city deadlines for ballot measures in November.


Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]