Portland city councilors have a range of opinions on a proposal that would significantly change the structure of city government, as well as a slate of citizen-driven referendums that seek to address short-term rentals, the minimum wage and rent control.

Councilors April Fournier, Roberto Rodriguez, Tae Chong and Mark Dion said in separate interviews and emails this week that they are opposed to Question 2, a proposal from the Charter Commission that would strengthen the city’s mayor. They said the council’s legislative process is a better avenue to address policy.

Mayor Kate Snyder also is critical of the proposal. She published an op-ed in the Press Herald this week urging residents to vote ‘no’ on Questions 2 and 5, which removes the council vote on the school budget, and all five citizen initiatives.

One councilor, Victoria Pelletier, is more supportive. She did not respond to phone messages or an email asking about her stance on the ballot questions, but shared her recommendations in an Instagram story this week. She said Question 2 will help ensure City Hall is more accountable to voters.

“I don’t think anything is a perfect model, but I ran for office because I did NOT think city government was accessible, and I want to do whatever I can to ensure that moving forward, it is,” Pelletier wrote.

Councilors Andrew Zarro and Anna Trevorrow also did not respond to phone and email messages asking about their positions. Councilor Pious Ali has declined to weigh in on Question 2.



Councilors who are against Question 2 said they don’t see a need for the broad change that includes expanding the council from nine to 12 members and replacing the city manager with a chief administrator who reports to the mayor rather than the council.

“Question 2 makes the assumption that somehow our city is mismanaged and therefore we need a complete overhaul. I just don’t see any evidence our city is being mismanaged,” Chong said.

Jacob Allen, 29, who is visually impaired, votes early with the help of a caregiver at the City of Portland State of Maine Room on Tuesday afternoon. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

He said the city successfully navigated many challenges in the past year. “If the city is so mismanaged you wouldn’t be able to keep it safe, manage a pandemic, house 2,000 asylum seekers during a pandemic and keep our budget in order,” Chong said.

Rodriguez said there are pieces of Question 2 that he likes, but he will vote ‘no’ because he is worried that if every incoming mayor has the opportunity to name new department heads it would lead to instability. “I’m worried about how it would impact our ability to hire and fill some of our openings,” said Rodriguez, who supports all of the charter commission proposals except Question 2.

He said the expanded council combined with new mayoral powers would weaken councilors’ roles. “The current system requires collaboration and buy-in from your counterparts, and it’s my preferred method of advancing policy rather than having one sole person, the mayor, doing it,” Rodriguez said.


Dion said Question 2 is rooted in a belief that there’s too much conflict between the city manager and mayor, but he said that’s the result of personalities, not government structures. “This question incorporates such an overhaul, I don’t think it’s warranted,” Dion said. “I think we have checks and balances in place. The average citizen wants predictability and consistency from their city government, and I think the current form provides that.”

Fournier supports all of the charter commission proposals except 2 and 5. “I think there are good components to each being presented, but it’s not quite the fit I think we need in our city at this moment,” she said in an email.


Councilors are split on whether to support Question 5, the school budget proposal. Dion and Chong oppose the change. But at least four councilors are in favor: Ali, Rodriguez, Pelletier and Trevorrow, who is co-chair of the Yes for Schools! group that’s advocating for it.

“I believe the school board members are best equipped to make up a budget that meets the need of the school department in any given year,” said Rodriguez, who also is a former school board chair, adding that a joint budget committee between the school department and council would review the budget.

“The ultimate check and balance is the voters – that’s how ultimately the budget will be approved or not,” he said.


Dion, who chairs the council’s finance committee, respects those who support Question 5, but said that the council is ultimately responsible for the city budget as a whole.

He said there could be more coordination between the two bodies through a joint committee, but removing the board’s vote isn’t necessary and comes with a legal risk. “We should have a collegial relationship and educate each other on our priorities, but ultimately the budget authority lies with the city council,” Dion said.


The five councilors who responded to inquiries echoed the mayor’s concerns about the citizen-initiated referendum process.

“The citizen-initiated amendments to local laws were drafted without input from many important voices in our community, such as local business owners, local workers who earn tips, the public at large, and nonprofit and service organizations that operate on tight budgets,” Snyder said in an email Friday. “Portland deserves durable local policies created through a thoughtful process involving all stakeholders.”

Meanwhile, Pelletier said she is voting ‘no’ on Questions A and E, but ‘yes’ on B, C and D. “The short answer is I have and will always believe in a living wage, period,” Pelletier wrote of Question D, which seeks to raise the minimum wage and eliminate the tip credit.


Questions A and B concern short-term rentals, Question C is about rent control and Question E would restrict cruise ships.

“I’m a no on all of them,” Chong said. Taking Question B as an example, he said the city already limits non-owner occupied short-term rentals to 400, and that works well. “It’s kind of like Question 2, why are we punishing something that’s working?” Chong said.

Dion believes the referendums are trying to tackle issues that are too complex and would better be suited to the council’s legislative process. “When you propose rent control, and the proposal is 17 pages long, that just doesn’t make sense,” Dion said.

Rodriguez said he is interested in many of the issues, but he is worried they include unintended consequences. One example, Rodriguez said, is how Question B would impact people who own single-family homes and cottages on Peaks Island that operate as short-term rentals and are not currently included in the cap on non-owner occupied units.

“That’s a perspective I think is key,” Rodriguez said. “If the council were taking on this work, we would make sure that’s included.”

Ali shares some of his colleagues’ concerns. Like Rodriguez, he’s concerned about the impact on islands and said he can’t support the short-term rental proposals as they’re written. At a council meeting this year, he attempted to adopt and amend Question A, which also addresses short-term rentals, though his motion didn’t pass.


Ali supports looking into whether the minimum wage should be higher, and that the council is doing that work, but he doesn’t have a position on Question D.

“I know people will say, ‘The council isn’t doing anything,'” Ali said. “It’s not that we’re not doing anything. It’s very complicated. Government doesn’t happen overnight.”

Fournier also said she will not support any of the citizen referendums. She said she ended her membership in January with the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which put four of the referendums on the ballot, in part because she didn’t share the same strategy for change.

“I think there are components that would be good ideas to pursue through committee work that involves public input and discussion, but I think there are components to each of them that are potentially problematic and if passed would take five years or another referendum to correct,” Fournier said.

She said she has heard from supporters who feel the council process takes too long, but she said collaborative work creates better and more sustainable policy.

“I am hopeful this coming council year we will see more people coming to committee meetings, more people stepping up to serve on committees and boards and more work to make our city work for everyone,” Fournier said.

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