South Portland appeals School Board member's civil rights victory

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city is appealing a decision by a Maine Superior Court judge that overturned a city policy barring municipal employees from seeking election to the School Board.

The city filed the necessary paperwork Tuesday to appeal the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. 

Karen Callaghan, a School Board member and city librarian, and Burton Edwards, a former School Board member and part-time Parks Department employee, won the civil rights lawsuit against the city last month. 

“We feel that it’s important for us to continue to pursue this,” City Manager Jim Gailey said Wednesday. “We feel as though it’s in the best interest of the city, in a personnel policy that governs all 300 employees, to have this language.”

The city has argued the policy is necessary to avoid untoward influence on city operations by School Board members, or inappropriate decisions made by city employees because of School Board politics. 

Callaghan and Edwards argued that the city’s prohibition on school district politics violated their First Amendment rights.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Warren agreed, writing in his order of summary judgment that there just wasn’t enough of a relationship between city employees and the School Board to to justify the prohibition.

“School Board members do not have any supervisory authority over municipal employees,” the judge said.

On Wednesday, Callaghan said she was stunned by the city’s appeal.

“I thought there’d be no way (the city) would appeal because it was very clear from the judge that he thought it was all very spurious,” she said. “I don’t see how I can’t win again. I just don’t see what they don’t get about having rights. It’s just baffling.”

Edwards was not immediately available for comment. 

The city will soon file a brief with the court outlining its argument against Warren’s decision. 

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

South Portland’s Notice of Appeal, Karen Callaghan et al. V. City of South Portland

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