A Portland commission tasked with reviewing the structure of city government and recommending changes will have more time to complete its work after it received a deadline extension from the City Council on Monday night.

Instead of issuing a preliminary report by March 8, the Charter Commission now has until May 9. A final report will be due to the council on July 11 rather than June 8. The council voted unanimously to grant the extension.

“I appreciate what you guys are doing and I’m looking forward to the final report you will bring to us,” Councilor Pious Ali said to commission Chair Michael Kebede before the vote at the council meeting.

The extension comes as the commission is beginning to finalize proposals for changes to the city charter that are expected to go before voters in November. Kebede said the commission is making progress and is prepared to add meetings as necessary to meet the new deadlines. “We’re not shy about adding meetings,” Kebede said. “We’ve done that a lot over the last couple months and we’ll do everything it takes.”

The only proposal to receive final approval from the commission, including approval of the language as it would appear in the charter, is a revised preamble and land acknowledgement recognizing the displacement of the Wabanaki people by European colonizers on the land where the city is built.

Two other proposals, for a citizen police review board and proportional ranked-choice voting, have been approved in concept though formal language has not yet been voted on. Proportional ranked-choice voting, instead of requiring one candidate to reach a winner-take-all threshold of 50 percent plus one votes, puts in place a method that allows for multiple candidates to cross a lower threshold based on the number of candidates in the race.


Proponents say it’s a fairer way to determine winners in a multi-seat race, but the concept is also complex, which is part of the reason why the commission is seeking to incorporate it into the charter but with some flexibility, Kebede said before Monday’s meeting.

“We’ve left it to the city to define proportional ranked-choice voting and haven’t mandated it,” Kebede said. “We’ve just made it permissive so the city can do it if it wants but it would not have to.”

The commission also is expected to vote in the coming weeks on whether to make changes to the positions of mayor and city manager and proposals for universal resident voting and to increase councilor pay.


In other news Monday, the council voted 6-3 to table indefinitely a proposal from Councilor Victoria Pelletier to implement a hazard pay wage of 1.5 times the minimum wage whenever the city’s mask mandate ordinance is in effect. Pelletier and Councilors Anna Trevorrow and Andrew Zarro cast the no votes.

At the same time, the council also discussed plans to bring questions around a livable wage, the cost of living and paid sick time to the council’s housing and economic development committee. Councilors who voted in favor of tabling the hazard pay proposal said that while they see the need to address issues around pay equity, the mask mandate amendment isn’t the right avenue to do so.


“Our end goal, from what I believe and what I want and from what I’m hearing, is we want greater wage equity and we want worker protections,” Councilor April Fournier said. “In my opinion, these are accomplished through longer-term more sustainable solutions.”

Ali, who chairs the housing and economic development committee, supports the idea of bringing issues around pay to the committee. After the council voted in January to repeal a state of emergency, Ali said he spoke with a large employer in the city who told him about the difficult choices some workers have faced having exhausted their paid time off and having to decide whether to go to work when sick.

“I think a comprehensive conversation looking at what are we allowed within the parameters of state and federal government to do will be more helpful than what we have in front of us today,” Ali said. “As the chair of the housing and economic development committee, I am willing to accept this on our committee.”

Pelletier brought forward her proposal for hazard pay in early February after the council voted in January to end a state of emergency that had triggered the city’s hazard pay ordinance, which was approved by voters in 2020 and which raises the minimum wage by 1.5 times during a state of emergency. But the council’s decision in February to repeal the city’s indoor mask mandate limited the ability for her proposal to have any immediate impact.


“The hard part is I don’t hear any alternative solutions other than raising the minimum wage in committee,” Pelletier said. “I don’t think that addresses the immediacy of risk pay that was voted on and that I strongly think the workers who have been in a pandemic for two years deserve.”


The council heard nearly an hour of public comment on hazard pay, including from business owners who expressed concerns about the cost of the proposal, as well as from workers who asked for support as they work low-paying and public-facing jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emery Adams works two jobs that pay $19.50, lives with three roommates and still struggles to get by. “The idea workers should be expected to be able to survive in Portland … on $13 per hour while they’ve risked their lives to keep the city running for the last two, almost three, years of the pandemic is insane,” Adams told the council.

Greg Dugal, a representative of Hospitality Maine, a trade group representing lodging and food service businesses around Maine, said that the last two years have been especially difficult on restaurants.

“The one thing they don’t need at this point is to have to reach into their depleted bank accounts to pay back wages,” Dugal said. “Some people said it’s another $50 on a paycheck but if you do the math and add the taxes, it’s a lot more than that and it could potentially result in hundreds to thousands of dollars in additional expenses.”

Comments are no longer available on this story