PORTLAND — Fair Elections Portland will appeal a Superior Court decision handed down earlier this month that found the city was not wrong to keep a proposed charter amendment off the ballot last fall.

“The constitution gives voters the right to amend their municipal charter,” said John Brautigam, a lawyer for Fair Elections Portland. “We will be asking the (Maine Supreme Judicial Court) to vindicate that right.”

The organization submitted over 8,000 signatures to the city in July 2019 calling for a referendum on whether to require the City Council to “establish and fund a mechanism providing public campaign funds to qualified candidates for mayor, City Council and school board.”

The measure is needed, according to Fair Election Portland’s Board Chairwoman Anna Kellar, because of the increasing amount of money being spent in local races every year, making it difficult for individuals without access to lots of capital to run for office. On average $150,000 to $160,000 is spent in those races, she said, and she estimates it would take $200,000 to have the program in place.

The hope was to have a question before voters at the November 2019 election, Kellar said.

The signatures were certified by the city clerk, but based on advice from corporation council, councilors decided Sept. 16 not to place the question on the ballot because setting up, and funding, a public fund for local races was too fundamental of a change to be a charter amendment. Such a reform would require charter revision, prompting the need for a charter commission review, they said.


City voters will be asked July 14 if they support the formation of a charter commission.

Four days after the council’s 2019 decision, Fair Elections Portland sued the city for “refusing to recognize a clean elections ballot initiative.”

In February the city asked the court to dismiss the case. Jessica Grondin, Portland’s communications director, said that was “in no way a general statement that voters aren’t entitled to challenge the council’s action where they meet the requirements for doing so,” but rather was “based on the specific facts of the case.”

On May 13, the Maine Superior Court upheld the city’s motion to dismiss the suit.

“The court is hard-pressed to find sufficient evidence to overturn the City Council’s determination. The City Council considered contradictory testimony and evidence, yet ultimately concluded that the petition’s mandatory funding aspect substantially ‘disrupts’ the City Charter by removing the City Council’s control over the ‘administration of all fiscal, prudential, and municipal affairs of the city,'” Maine Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy wrote in the decision.

“The city is pleased with the Superior Court’s well-reasoned decision upholding the City Council’s legal duties and responsibilities with regard to the city’s charter,” Grondin said.

Kellar hopes her group prevails and a charter amendment, as the group intended, is before voters this November.

“We absolutely see this as a fight still worth fighting because we want Portland voters to be able to weigh in,” Kellar said.

“I collected a lot of signatures and worked with many volunteers and almost every person I talked to was supportive of the idea or at least willing to have that conversation,” Kellar said.

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