A current member and a former member of the South Portland Board of Education have prevailed in their lawsuit against the city over a policy that bars municipal employees from running for the board.

Karen Callaghan, a part-time librarian, and Burton Edwards, who worked several hours a week as a recreation department employee, sued in Cumberland County Superior Court after South Portland broadened its policy to include school board candidacies. The previous policy prohibited city employees from running for City Council.

“The emperor has no clothes,” said David Lourie, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. “I’ve been telling the city of South Portland — or the attorney for the city of South Portland — all along this would likely be the result of any litigation. … They continued to insist that their personnel policy was constitutional.”

Callaghan, while serving on the school board, was told by the city clerk last year that the amendment made to the policy in 2010 prohibited her from running again while she held her city job.

City Manager James Gailey later told Callaghan that she could run in the 2011 election but would not be allowed to seek re-election after that.

Callaghan was re-elected without opposition. Edwards, after being told about the prohibition, did not run for re-election.

Under the court ruling, the city will be prohibited from enforcing the provisions of the personnel policy. It isn’t clear what city officials will do next.

“I haven’t had a chance to review the decision with the City Council, so no decision has been made about whether the city will appeal,” said Sally Daggett, the city’s attorney.

Mayor Patti Smith deferred to Gailey, who did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.

The personnel policy also prohibits municipal employees from political activity related to school board and City Council elections.

In his ruling this week, Justice Thomas Warren wrote that some governmental interests justify restrictions of political activity — including seeking office — by government employees.

Those interests include preventing the appearance that decisions are influenced by party affiliation, avoiding the danger that employees could be used to serve partisan purposes or incumbents, and preventing government resources from being used for political purposes.

Warren noted that South Portland’s school board elections are not partisan. He wrote that there could be concerns that employees would be pressured to help re-elect mayors or city councilors, but not school board candidates.

“School board members do not have any supervisory authority over municipal employees. While city council members would conceivably have the ability to enlist city employees to engage in political activity on their behalf, no such argument can be made with respect to city employee participation in school board elections,” Warren wrote.

The judge noted that Gailey had said it would likely be “awkward” if he had to uphold or overturn disciplinary action against a city employee who was on the school board. Warren noted that the city manager has no supervisory authority over the school board, or vice versa.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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