In an unusual move Monday, the South Portland City Council overruled the city clerk and declared that a petition drive attempting to return to one-way traffic on a block of Ocean Street in Knightville was officially dead.

Through a series of procedural maneuvers, and against the advice of City Attorney Sally Daggett, the majority of councilors agreed that City Clerk Emily Carrington’s only job was to determine whether the citizen’s initiative submitted to her was complete or defective.

In her official report to the council, Carrington declared the petition to be insufficient because the total number of signatures verified fell short of the 944 required and because at least two of the petition pages were not signed by the circulator as required.

However, Carrington then went further and consulted Daggett about the possibility of allowing the petitioners to fix the insufficiency.

In a written response, Daggett suggested to Carrington that because “initiative laws are to be liberally construed” and due to “First Amendment considerations. . . it seems to me that the petitioners should be permitted to supplement the petition with additional signatures.”

However, during Monday’s council meeting, five of the seven councilors argued that since the petition was originally found to be defective, that should have been the end of the issue.

“If we let this go back out, we would be approving the shoddiest petition work I’ve ever seen. We are under no obligation and it would be setting a bad precedent,” said Councilor Claude Morgan.

Morgan also said that by declaring the petition effort a failure, the council was not “gagging or impeding free speech.”

– Kate Irish Collins


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