SOUTH PORTLAND — City Councilor Jocelyn Leighton’s decision to remain in office after she moved out of the waterfront district where she was elected has raised concerns among constituents who are unhappy with her support for a recent change in off-leash dog hours at Willard Beach.

Residents sparred over Leighton’s continued representation of District 1 during Tuesday’s council meeting. Some said it was “fundamentally undemocratic” that she was allowed to vote on the change, while others described her as being “scrupulously fair” and responsive to constituents.

Jocelyn Leighton Eric J Piskura photo

Leighton lived at 8 Alder St. when she was elected District 1 councilor in November 2020. She subsequently moved to 34 Elmwood Ave. in District 3, a change she registered with the city when she went to the polls to vote in November 2021.

Under the city charter, Leighton may continue to represent District 1 through the end of her three-year term in November 2023. The city’s five district councilors and two at-large councilors are elected by voters citywide.

Leighton couldn’t run again in District 1 unless she moved back. District 3 Councilor Misha Pride’s term runs through November 2024. Both at-large council seats are up for grabs this fall.

Leighton defended her move to District 3 and her continued presence on the council Tuesday night, after several residents criticized her support for the dog rule change and the charter that allows her to remain on the council.


The decision to move wasn’t easy, she said, but she was “priced out” of District 1, a seaside section of the city that includes Ferry Village, Bug Light Park, Willard Beach and the bordering neighborhoods. The median home price in the Willard Beach area is $527,000, she said.

“It’s not an affordable place to live,” Leighton said. “And as someone who is wanting to start a family with somebody at the age of 39, I don’t have a whole lot of time and I’m not going to wait three years to do that.”

Still, Leighton said, she believes government representation is important and she felt a duty to fulfill her term on the council because she was elected by and serves voters citywide. She didn’t respond to a call for additional information.

Leighton came under scrutiny during recent council deliberations over additional changes to summertime dog regulations on Willard Beach.

Under rules approved last year, dogs were allowed on the beach, both leashed and unleashed, from 7-9 a.m. and 7-9 p.m., from May 1 to Sept. 30.

The City Council recently approved a change that requires all dogs to be leashed from 7-8 p.m. but continues to allow unleashed dogs from 8-9 p.m. Morning hours were unchanged. Dogs are not allowed on the beach at other times during the summer months.


The altered evening hours went into effect last week after petitioners failed to collect at least 1,098 signatures from registered voters in favor of asking the council to repeal the change or send the question to a citywide referendum.

Steve Silver, a Pine Street resident who circulated the petition, was one of several citizens who criticized the rule change and questioned whether Leighton should be allowed to continue representing District 1 when she no longer lives there.

“It’s just not right,” Silver said during the public comment segment of Tuesday’s council meeting.

John Pani of Beach Street defended the rule change and Leighton, saying she is “scrupulously fair” and a good listener who is held in high regard by many residents of District 1.

City Clerk Emily Scully and other municipal officials confirmed that the city charter allows Leighton to remain on the council and represent District 1 until her term ends. Other councilors and school board members have done the same in the past, Scully said.

“I’m not the first one to do it and I won’t be the last,” Leighton said.

If a city councilor or school board member moves outside the city, however, they must resign from their seat.

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