Portland’s elected City Council should be proud of the work completed over the last two years amid unrelenting, unprecedented challenges.

In my recent State of the City address, I shared some of those achievements, resulting from committee work, citizen input, and the council’s legislative process: over 1,475 housing units are under construction, 345 new units have been approved and 200 more are currently in review; city grants to local businesses; bike sharing launched; asylees welcomed and more.

The work is far from done. But what we’ve achieved has been accomplished thoughtfully and transparently, though under constant criticism from a small number of vocal activists who repeatedly pronounce, post and tweet that the council is not going far enough, fast enough. These activists prefer ideological purity to open and transparent policymaking, legislation by referendum rather than legislation informed by a public process designed to engage stakeholders.

And now Portland voters are weighing eight charter amendments and five citizen initiatives, which, if enacted, will drastically impact city government, workers, renters and citizens who are already dealing with inflation and uncertainty.

I have joined 14 former mayors in urging voters to say “no” to Charter Commission governance changes proposed in Questions 2 and 5. It’s rare to have that many policy leaders agree, but we all value professional city management and understand the need for municipal officers’ involvement in the school budget during the city budget process. Our city staff are dedicated professionals committed to public service, but our city government is severely strained and in need of stability.

Today five critical leadership roles are filled with an interim official, and 255 city jobs sit vacant. We desperately need to fill these open and interim roles. With the changes being proposed, however, hiring now is not possible. If we upend our form of government by approving Questions 2 and 5, filling those roles will only get harder.

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Citizen initiatives A, B, C, D and E represent a destabilizing of our community’s open and transparent policymaking process. In the midst of historic challenges, complex policy decisions should be deliberately made in public with as much information as possible. Citizen referendums, on the other hand, emerge fully formed from behind closed doors. Maine, the region and Portland have unfinished work to address the housing crisis. But the ballot questions for short-term rentals and tenant protections are not comprehensive solutions. Questions A, B and C are just a rough first draft of that work, still desperately needing input from key stakeholders: renters, housing advocates and rental housing providers. To see the dangers of governing by referendum, one only needs to look at the cruise ship ballot question.

Question E proposes to place limits on cruise ships that come to Portland. Consultation by the question’s authors with stakeholders like the International Longshoremen’s Association happened after ballots were printed. Now the authors don’t support their own proposal. Question E is a cautionary tale: what do you get when you make policy without the input of the governed? Flawed ordinance that could be with us for five years.

This example points directly to the need for open, transparent council work in order to research and recommend policy that will balance a wide range of interests. This kind of balancing is not a one-person job. Bringing people together, listening and deciding is why we have an elected council. I believe in the democratic process, and in representative government. When an elected body, together, oversees professionals employed to implement policy and carry out the everyday work of municipal government, representative democracy is realized.

While I have decided not to seek reelection, I care deeply about Portland’s path forward. For these reasons I will vote “no” on ballot Questions A-E and Charter Commission Questions 2 and 5.


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