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South Portland City Council special election set for March 12

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South Portland City Council special election set for March 12

SOUTH PORTLAND — Nomination petitions for a March 12 special election to fill the District 1 City Council seat will be available at City Hall at 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 14.

Councilors approved the election date in a 30-minute council meeting on Monday, Jan. 7.

Voters will elect a replacement for former Councilor Tom Coward, who resigned Dec. 31, 2012. He will take a seat as a Cumberland County commissioner on Jan. 14.

District 1 includes Willard Square and the eastern section of Ferry Village. Although candidates must live in the district, balloting is open to all registered city voters.

Coward's unexpired term expires in December 2014. Nomination papers require at least 100 signatures from registered voters. The deadline to submit nomination papers is 4:30 p.m. Feb. 1.

Polls will open March 5 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the South Portland Community Center, 21 Nelson Road.

The brevity of Monday's meeting allowed councilors to consider three agenda items in a 75-minute workshop after the meeting was adjourned.

The first item helped set workshop agendas through early March. Councilors also agreed to hold off on policy changes regarding attendance at meetings of municipal boards and committees and using social media for communications.

Councilors will be discussing ordinance amendments for the outdoor farmers market, plans to restripe traffic lanes on Broadway and possibly future plans for Wilkinson Park or creating a city endowment fund on Jan. 28.

Council workshops on working with city boards and committees and plans for a new public works, recreation and transportation facility will be held next month.  Mayor Tom Blake said he would like to see a workshop on the possible flow of Canadian "tar sands" oil into the city, perhaps in mid-March, before budget discussions begin to fill workshop agendas.

The policy changes were part of a five-item list compiled by City Manager Jim Gailey last summer regarding possible amendments to council standing rules.

While councilors Jerry Jalbert, Al Livingston and Patti Smith noted councilors can and should attend municipal committee and board meetings as private citizens, the question of how many should attend at once and how they should interact stemmed from a Planning Board meeting last May about moving the farmers market.

Planning Board Chairman Rob Schrieber protested "undue pressure" from written and oral comments from councilors and refused to vote on the proposal to move the market to Hinckley Drive from Thomas Knight Park.

On Monday, councilors agreed to discuss interaction with boards and committees at a workshop next month, while also having Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett conduct a workshop outlining proper use of social media and email for communications.

Councilors also agreed to hire an independent consultant to help form a commission to review councilor compensation and propose any potential changes to the City Charter.

The commission is a goal for Blake, following extended debate last summer about taxpayer-funded health insurance benefits for councilors. The benefits, available since 1977, are not mentioned in the charter clause that sets councilor compensation at $3,000 annually.

After Nov. 30, taxpayer funding for the health benefits will be eliminated, but councilors will be eligible to buy their own coverage in plans available to municipal staff.

Blake and Councilor Jerry Jalbert, according to city documents, were the two remaining councilors enrolled in taxpayer-funded health-care plans.

Setting up the commission to study councilor compensation will be the task of Michael Wing, the Yarmouth-based consultant who leads Human Resources/Labor Relations Consulting Services.

City Manager Jim Gailey said Tuesday he is offering a $110 per hour contract to Wing to steward committee selection and deliberations, with the goal of having any potential charter change ready by Aug. 20.

Wing, who has consulted on municipal hirings in Bar Harbor and on compensation questions in North Yarmouth, is expected by Blake to supply expertise, but let the committee determine its own course.

If the committee concludes charter changes are in order, the goal for councilors to schedule a public hearing and vote for Sept. 4 and to put the changes on the Nov. 5 election ballot.

Blake said keeping the commission independent is critical to the process.

"One thing we've learned through the process was it was done wrong in the beginning,” he said about the council provision for health care. "At the end of this process, there should be no questions at all."

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.