In your Oct. 23 story “Charter question going to voters, raising possibility of major changes” (Page B1), Councilor Justin Costa says, “It would be deeply unfortunate if we (the City Council) leave the impression that our democracy is being undermined or there’s some existential threat going on here.” But if you are a believer in direct democracy, that is exactly what is going on!

Costa and six other councilors have agreed with the city attorney that Portland voters do not have the right to require the council to spend even one cent of our taxes for any voter-approved ballot measure. This despite the fact that Article VIII of the Maine Constitution states: “The inhabitants of any municipality shall have the power to alter and amend their charters on all matters, not prohibited by Constitution or general law.” Nothing in Article VIII distinguishes between matters that require funding and those that do not.

This is the basis of the lawsuit that Fair Elections Portland filed on behalf of myself and nine other Portland voters against the city. We believe our citizens’ initiative to establish and fund a clean elections program is a charter amendment, subject to direct vote by the citizens of Portland. The city councilors say it is not, because its funding requirement abrogates what they consider their exclusive right to determine how city funds are spent, direct democracy notwithstanding.

Let there be no mistake. The council has indeed launched a serious effort to limit direct democracy in Portland. Hopefully, they won’t get away with it!

Phil Steele


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