The Portland Charter Commission will hold a virtual public hearing Wednesday to solicit input about ways it can improve the basic structure of city government.

Topics can be anything relevant to city government and the charter, but will likely include government structure, the relationship between city and school leadership, diversity and equity, policing, housing and other issues, according to a statement from at large Charter Commissioner Pat Washburn.

“This is a chance for Portlanders to directly address the people who will be studying and recommending revisions to the city’s founding document,” Chairman Michael Kebede said in a written statement. “We encourage everyone with an interest in the city’s future to attend.”

The meeting will take place via Zoom (passcode: 856904), beginning at 6 p.m. Public comments may be submitted in writing to [email protected].

The 12-member commission is comprised of three council appointees and nine elected members, including one from each council district and four at-large.

A charter commission was first proposed in 2019 in response to a citizen initiative to create a public financing  program for municipal election candidates. However, racial and economic disparities brought to light during the pandemic, plus increased calls for racial justice following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020, energized progressive voters looking for systemic change.

Five of the nine elected commission members campaigned on progressive platforms and were endorsed by the Maine Democratic Socialists of America. Their victories came after four of five citizen initiatives pushed by the DSA were approved by city voters in November, strengthening the city’s ban on facial recognition technology, instituting rent control, creating a Green New Deal for Portland and establishing a $15-hour minimum wage plus hazard pay during emergencies.

Nearly all the elected commissioners campaigned on strengthening the city’s elected mayor position, which currently comes with a full-time salary and four-year term, but no executive authority over city affairs. A majority also expressed support for either eliminating or demoting the city manager position, which oversees daily operations and reports to the full City Council, and expanding the number of district councilors and increasing their pay.

Councilors serve part time and receive a stipend of about $6,800 a year; the mayor is paid $90,700 a year and the manager is paid $177,500.

Other topics that came up during the campaign included defunding the police, enshrining diversity and inclusion efforts in the charter, giving the school board more budget autonomy and less council oversight, and creating neighborhood advisory councils.

The commission only has a year to finish its work, though the council can grant an extension.

The group’s deadlines would be March 8, 2022, for a nine-month report on recommendations and June 8, 2022, for a final 12-month report to the City Council. The recommended revisions could go to voters in November 2022.

The commission’s recommendations would have to be approved by city voters to take effect, and the total voter turnout would have to be at least 30 percent of the previous gubernatorial election. City Clerk Katherine Jones has said that would require a turnout of at least 10,224.

The elected members of the charter commission are Stewart-Bouley in District 1, Robert O’Brien in District 2, Zachary Barowitz in District 3, Marcques Houston in District 4, Ryan Lizanecz in District 5, and Marpheen Chann, Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef, Catherine Buxton and Pat Washburn serving at large.

Three members were appointed by the City Council: Efficiency Maine Deputy Director and former school board member Peter Eglinton, ACLU of Maine Policy Counsel Michael Kebede and former City Councilor Dory Waxman, who also is founder of Common Threads of Maine and owner of Old Port Wool and Textile Co.

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