Haste makes waste. If you don’t believe it, experience will correct you.

The proposed Clean Elections amendment to the Portland city charter should not be rushed to the polls on Nov. 5, although the Press Herald Editorial Board has advocated a quick court decision to put the charter amendment on the ballot (“Our View: Court should let Portland residents vote on charter change,” Sept. 24).

First, the city’s charter is the city’s constitution. Any change to the charter should be sent to the voters only after careful public discussion and crafting. Constitutions control the form of our government and the exercise of its powers. They are meant to last. Because they are so important, changes to them are put through a process that is slow, careful and deliberate. Such a process is particularly important when a change is substantive – like the one proposed.

Second, the proposed change seeks to alter the City Council’s responsibility and power to set the city budget. That budget is a complex balancing of many competing priorities. It is the clearest and most important expression of the priorities of our elected representatives – the mayor and the council. It is the product of a six-month process of submission, review and refinement, all of which is done through countless public meetings of the city’s Finance Committee and the council.  Passing the proposed amendment as drafted will earmark property tax dollars for one special purpose. That program will not compete with the many other priorities that the city budget has to address: public education, affordable housing, homeless shelters, etc., etc.

Does funding for Clean Elections deserve to sit outside the process and those other priorities? At last report, it would take at least $100,000 in property tax revenue to level the financial playing field between Mayor Ethan Strimling, the top fundraiser in the 2019 mayoral election, and his two closest competitors, Councilor Spencer Thibodeau and former school board Chair Kate Snyder.

Third, the precise legal problem – I.e., what is an issue that can be approved by voters as a charter amendment versus a charter revision, which requires a Charter Commission – is created by state law. The place to fix it is in the state Legislature, not in court. A public policy issue is best addressed by elected representatives, not by an unelected judge.

Fourth, if the proposed charter change or any charter change goes forward at anything but a gubernatorial or presidential election in November, it can be approved by too small a number of voters. In this case, for example, 10,225 voters have to turn out and vote on the change, but only 50.1 percent of those voters (5,114) have to vote for it to pass. A total of 5,114 voters out of over 34,000 voters get to change the city constitution for their own special interest. That issue also needs to be addressed in the state Legislature.

The issues raised by the Clean Elections referendum are important. That is why so many voters, including me, signed their petition. The process they are pushing to pass it is not good. It is haste and it will make waste. Let’s take the time to do it right.


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