Portland City Council rejects proposal for rolling petition deadlines

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PORTLAND — The standard deadline for filing referendum petitions will not change after a proposal to allow rolling deadlines was narrowly rejected Wednesday by the City Council.

The proposal by Councilor David Marshall would have allowed signature gatherers to turn in pages as they are collected, and require the city clerk to verify each batch within 15 days after they are received.

The existing process has a standard deadline for all petitions: 80 days from the day the petition is taken out. If signatures are rejected, petitioners do not have time to gather more.

Marshall’s proposal came after a group called Sensible Portland gathered signatures to change the city’s rules about marijuana possession enforcement last fall. But its petition was rejected when not enough of the signatures were accepted because too many of the people who signed were either unregistered to vote or not Portland residents.

The council was divided on the issue Wednesday night.

A previous vote in November was tied, 4-4, and the proposal was delayed at a Dec. 19 meeting. On Wednesday, the council rejected the proposal 5-4, with Councilors Nicholas Mavodones, Cheryl Leeman, John Coyne, Ed Suslovic and Jill Duson in the majority.

Councilors Kevin Donoghue, John Anton and Marshall, and Mayor Michael Brennan, voted in favor of the change.

City Clerk Katherine Jones submitted a letter in November stating that the proposed “process makes it confusing and cumbersome for our office working with so many deadlines and different petitions during the same period.”

She said it was her preference that the existing process remain, so the clerk’s office would not have to deal with multiple deadlines for multiple petitions.

During the meeting Wednesday, Jones told councilors the clerk’s office verified nearly a quarter of a million signatures last year. She said the proposed change would create a cumbersome and confusing process that would be difficult to maintain.

“One group having a problem getting signatures does not mean there’s a problem that needs to add to the clerk’s workload,” Suslovic said.

Duson said the current process is transparent and makes sense. She said the issue for Sensible Portland was not that the process was unfair, but that they did not collect valid signatures.

Marshall argued that with a rolling deadline a group could go out and gather more signatures if the first batch did not contain enough verifiable signatures.

He asked rhetorically if the council wanted “a process where people don’t know how many signatures they’ve collected, or a more transparent process that shows them how many they’ve collected?”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

Sidebar Elements

Post-surgery Brennan attends meeting, asks for patience

PORTLAND — Mayor Michael Brennan attended the Jan. 4 City Council meeting a week and half after having surgery to remove a carcinoid tumor from his small intestine.

Brennan attended a workshop about a wind energy ordinance before the 7 p.m. meeting, and eventually turned the council over to Councilor Nicholas Mavodones to run as mayor pro tempore.

The mayor was in good spirits, joking that the first item on the agenda was “an update on the mayor’s condition, if he’s not present.”

“I’m here and I just want to thank everyone in the city of Portland for their support and letters and emails,” he said.

Brennan said he is not recovering “as quickly as I’d like, which would be tomorrow.”

He asked the public and councilors to bear with him as he eases back into his job.

Brennan also fulfilled a promise made during his campaign to shrink the number of City Council committees from nine to six, and increase the number of councilors on each committee from three to four.

The council approved merging the Transportation Committee with the Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee, the Housing Committee with the Community Development Committee and the Public Safety Committee with the Health and Recreation Committee.

The change leaves committees for Finance; Transportation; Sustainability and Energy; Housing and Community Development; Public Safety, Health and Human Services; Legislative, and Nominating.

Brennan left the meeting at 8 p.m., about a half hour before it ended.

— Emily Parkhurst