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South Portland seeks 'clarification' of high court ruling

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South Portland seeks 'clarification' of high court ruling

SOUTH PORTLAND — The city will not appeal a recent court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the debate over whether city employees may run for the School Board isn't entirely over.

During an executive session Monday, Sept. 16, the City Council decided to ask the Maine Supreme Judicial Court reconsider its ruling against the city "for the purpose of a clarification," Mayor Tom Blake said Thursday.

"They told us that we had to change, but they gave us no indication of where to go, what to do, what's acceptable," he said. "It should be a fairly simple, straightforward request."

The city had the option of appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but "that is off the table," Blake said.

The state supreme court ruled on Sept. 10 that the city cannot prevent its employees from running for the School Board; however, the high court also limited the scope of its decision to the two city employees who brought the lawsuit.

"The report is very fuzzy, so we're asking for their help in clarification," Blake said.

The dispute began in 2011 when city employees Karen Callaghan and Burton Edwards filed a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court and successfully argued that a city policy banning municipal employees from running for School Board violated their First Amendment rights.

The city appealed the decision to the state supreme court, which ruled in a 5-1 decision against the city.

Before the executive session Monday, Callaghan addressed the council during a public comment session and pleaded with the city to accept the court's ruling and change the policy. Cost was one reason, she said.

"The city now owes my lawyer $30,000," she said. "Please do not appeal the Maine supreme court ruling and waste more money.

"I also ask that the council look at the city personnel policy again and revert back to the one that does not limit employee's rights," Callaghan said. "There is no proof that working for the city has had any bearing on being a School Board member. I have been one for seven years. We have a lot of trouble, as you know, getting city councilors and getting School Board members and this just limits it even more."

Resident Karen Westerberg also addressed the council during public comment. She cautioned against an appeal.

"Stop. Enough is enough," Westerberg said. "Move on, and stop wasting our tax dollars."

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.