PORTLAND — A pair of orders generated unexpected City Council debate Monday night.
The meeting was dominated by discussion of a City Charter amendment that would create a temporary four-year at-large council seat, and an amendment that reduces costs and streamline the licensing process for flea-market vendors.
The amendment would also backstop the Police Department’s tacit authority to seize stolen goods brought to flea markets and pawn shops to be sold.
Both amendments were ultimately passed. The order to create the at-large seat must to go to public referendum before it takes effect.
The item’s intent is to even to give every voter a chance to vote at least once a year on for a councilor, in the wake of the adoption of the elected-mayor in 2011.
The amendment would make one of the two at-large seats up for election in 2013 last a year longer than the typical three-year term. This would put at least one at-large seat on the ballot in each of the following four years; in 2017, the seat would revert back to a standard three-year term.
Candidates would have to run for either the three- or four-year term.
Councilors debated whether the extended term limit is excessive – Councilor Nicholas Mavodones said a three year term is appropriate, while Councilor David Marshall said the mayor’s term of office sets a precedent for four-year seats – and whether requiring candidates to choose which term to run for best serves democratic principles.
Councilor Kevin Donaghue suggested that under the proposed arrangement, the second-place vote-getter for the four-year seat might receive more votes than the first-place candidate for the three-year term, but still end up losing.
The idea of simply giving the four-year seat to the top vote-getter and the three-year term to the second-place candidate, however, did not gain the support needed to pass the council, nor did a suggestion to reach the staggered-term goal earlier by creating a temporary one-year at-large seat.
The amendment eventually passed as proposed, 7-1, with Mavodones opposed. It will go to voters Nov. 6.
The debate turned more heated when the amendment to the city’s pawn broker and flea market ordinance was considered.
The amendment is the result of a months-long dialogue between the city clerk’s office, city attorneys, and the owners of the Portland Flea For All, an arts and antiques-focused flea market that opened in the Bayside neighborhood in April.
The market’s owners, Erin Kiley and Nathanial Baldwin, found that the previous rule was designed to limit routine flea markets from operating within the city. They approached the city in hope that the process, which required flea market operators to pay $50 per day, and flea market vendors to get a license that costs $20 plus a $35 processing fee and a week’s wait for a license, could be streamlined.
The rule had also allowed vendors to participate in up to six flea markets without requiring a license.
The city clerk’s office initially agreed to change the flea market operator’s fee to a flat $250 a year, but wanted to require vendors to get licenses before selling at any flea market event.
The week-long waiting period and the total cost of the license, Kiley and Baldwin believed, would have made the Flea For All an undesirable venue for many of their potential clients, because of the on-the-move nature of the flea market business and competition from flea markets in towns with no license requirements and no fees.
A misunderstanding between city attorney Gary Wood and the council’s Public Safety and Health and Human Services Committee, where Wood proposed waiving the $35 processing fee for flea market seller’s licenses despite the committee’s decision to keep it, added confusion.
At Monday’s meeting, committee member Councilor Jill Duson said that passing the amendment with Wood’s suggested fee waiver amounted to bullying the clerk’s office after the council discussion.
Portland Community Chamber representative Chris O’Neil, meanwhile, told the council that the clerk’s office had been “recalcitrant” and unnecessarily inflexible in dealing with the fledgling business. His comments lead to a fiery retort from the Public Safety Committee chairman, Councilor Ed Suslovic, who said the clerk’s office had “bent over backwards” trying to solve the problem.
In the end, the council voted unanimously to approve the amendment. It also voted 5-3, with Councilors Cheryl Leeman, Mavodones and Duson opposed, to strike the initial $35 processing fee for flea market sellers, as well as subsequent annual $25 renewal fees. The approved amendment also gives police the authority to seize goods that they have reason to believe are stolen.
With costs for flea market sellers and operators alike reduced and the week-long wait for the license ironed out by allowing vendors to participate in markets immediately by using a receipt from the clerk’s office as proof of holding the license, Kiley said she and Baldwin were pleased with the final outcome and the work by the city on their behalf.
In other business, the council approved the installation of a functional public-art project along the Bayside Trail that will put benches along the trail, and announced the creation of a Public Advisory Committee to make suggestions for short-term improvements to Spring and Free streets in light of upcoming renovations to the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Councilors also voted to accept a $53,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Emergency Solutions Grant Program for programs to help guard the subjects of eviction and foreclosure from homelessness.