The Portland Charter Commission voted 8-4 Wednesday night in support of a proposal strengthening the role of the city’s mayor after waffling over whether to move ahead with the plan, make changes or put off a decision altogether.

The vote represents a slightly larger margin in favor of the proposal than last week, when commissioners initially voted 7-5 for the most significant change the commission is considering to the structure of city government. Commissioner Ryan Lizanecz was the sole commissioner to change his vote from last week.

The vote to include the proposal in a preliminary report on recommended changes seemed settled, but at the end of the meeting Lizanecz asked to reconsider the vote citing the number of amendments commissioners presented Wednesday night, most of which did not pass.

“I would like to take some time to explore some of the amendments that were proposed a little more in-depth,” Lizanecz told fellow commissioners, who then voted 7-4 to support the reconsideration. But Chair Michael Kebede said the commission has only one scheduled meeting left before its May 9 deadline for the preliminary report, and he and some other commissioners would not be able to attend that meeting.

Some commissioners expressed confusion over whether the reconsideration would take place immediately or next week, and the commission then voted unanimously against reconsidering its initial vote.

Earlier in the meeting, Commissioner Marpheen Chann proposed an amendment that would have significantly changed the proposal and restored some of the language currently in the charter.


That amendment would have eliminated language around an “executive” mayor, removed the creation of an executive committee, and walked back some of the budget authority given to the mayor, among other changes. “I think this amendment can get us more than seven or six people (in support of the proposal),” Chann said.

Chann’s amendment passed 7-5 with commissioners Marcques Houston, Zack Barowitz, Catherine Buxton, Pat Washburn and Kebede opposed. But after the vote Commissioner Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef said she accidentally voted in favor of the proposal when she meant to vote against it. The amendment then failed on a 6-6 vote.

Wednesday’s deliberations represented the culmination of months of work on a model for city leadership and came a day after Mayor Kate Snyder and 15 former mayors, including one other popularly elected mayor, spoke out against the commission’s proposal for an “executive” mayor.

The proposal gives the mayor more oversight over development and presentation of the city budget, and creates a new position of “chief operating officer” to replace the city manager. The chief operating officer would report to the mayor rather than the council as the current city manager does. The mayor would preside over council meetings but would no longer have a vote on the council.

The proposal also creates an “executive committee” made up of the mayor and two councilors that would nominate department heads and key positions, including the city clerk and corporation counsel for council approval. The council currently hires the clerk and corporation counsel, while the city manager currently appoints department heads, subject to council approval.

Voting in support of the commission’s proposal were commissioners Robert O’Brien, Barowitz, Buxton, Washburn, Lizanecz, Houston, Sheikh-Yousef and Kebede. Opposed were Chann, Dory Waxman, Shay Stewart-Bouley and Peter Eglinton.


The proposal is one of about a dozen changes to the charter the commission is considering, including several others that were voted on to include in the preliminary report Wednesday night. The commission also moved to cancel its remaining meeting scheduled for next week and directed its attorney to compile all the approved proposals into the preliminary report.

It will be possible for the commission to make amendments and tweak the proposals at meetings held between the completion of the preliminary report and the issuance of the final report by July 11, and the commission does plan to take public comment at at least one of those meetings.

“We voted (on Chann’s amendment) and 6-6 suggests there are ideas people like which can be moved as amendments,” Kebede said. “That can happen now. It can happen in May or it can happen in June. I think we have that prerogative.”

Final language also was approved Wednesday for proposals that would remove council approval of the school budget from the school budget ratification process and that would allow the superintendent of schools to jointly prepare the city’s rolling capital improvement plan with city officials. The current charter says that preparation of the capital improvement plan is a duty of the city manager.

Language also was approved for proposals for clean elections, which would provide public campaign funds to qualified candidates for municipal office; a redistricting of election districts and expanding the council from nine members to 12; creation of a code of ethics and ethics commission; and proportional ranked choice voting.

Finally, the commission approved final language for a universal resident voting proposal, which would grant non-citizens of legal voting age the right to cast ballots in municipal elections, and another proposal allowing the school board and city council to appoint members if a vacancy occurs within six months of the next regular city election.

The commission may choose to submit its proposals to voters in separate questions, as opposed to one package including all the proposed revisions. The last city charter commission, in 2010, posed three different ballot questions to voters.

The commission will decide whether and how to group proposals between the issuance of the preliminary report and the July 11 deadline for the final report, according to Jim Katsiaficas, attorney for the commission.

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