Monday night’s Council meeting proved to be a continuation of two major discussions from last week: The School Board budget and the Clean Elections ordinance.
All Councilors were present in person with the exception of Councilor Ali.
General Public Comments
Before beginning the 5:00 PM public comment period, Mayor Snyder spoke. She reiterated the rules of public comment, reserving the right to cut off any comments that “aren’t germane or are abusive,” a response to last week’s Council discussion on the open public comment period.
Three individuals made comments. First, Matt Walker expressed gratitude to the City for expanding staffing in the permitting and inspections office in the FY24 budget; he also thanked the Housing Safety Office for their work, and suggested to the Council that they might consider updating the City’s rental registration software.
The next comment came from George Rheault on Zoom, urging the Council to be more involved with the project to expand Evergreen Cemetery, and other such projects in general. Rheault’s view was that projects are often “too far down the road” before the Council is aware of them.
Finally, Portland resident Vivienda commented over Zoom in support of the current rent control ordinance, and alleging that her current landlord is in breach of the ordinance. She asked that the Council encourage the Housing Safety Office to investigate the matter.
Announcements and Recognitions
During the Announcements period, Mayor Snyder spoke again, acknowledging the difficulty of last week’s public comment period. “[It’s wrong to] have hate come into this chamber,” she said, adding that “it tears me apart” when commenters “seek to dehumanize people.” An emotional Snyder also acknowledged her delay in speaking on this, given that the event in question occurred a week ago. Snyder’s announcement was a clear reference to a homophobic and transphobic comment that went uninterrupted at last week’s meeting.
The Recognitions portion of the evening brought a shift to the mood. Snyder recognized Kevin Fahrman, a Falmouth resident who, following his passing on April 21, was revealed to be the Portland Valentine’s Day Bandit. Mayor Snyder made a speech posthumously thanking Fahrman for his contribution to the community. Sierra Fahrman, Kevin Fahrman’s daughter, thanked the city for the outpouring of love to her grieving family.
A recognition for Ryan Gorneau, Social Services Program Manager, was postponed until next week.
Proclamations followed: Mayor Snyder recognized the week of April 30th as Municipal Clerks Week, giving thanks to the City Clerk’s office for their important work; Councilor Fournier presented Proclamation 22 – Declaring May 5th, 2023 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Day. Fournier explained the history of indigenous women going missing or being murdered without sufficient action by governments. She also shared that homicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among indigenous women and girls under the age of 44.
Next, several license applications were approved unanimously by the Council. Maine Ballroom Dancing was approved for a new location on the second floor at 616 Congress Street. New owners of the Great Lost Bear renewed the establishment’s liquor license. Cherished Pub, a diner and pub at 64 Auburn Street; Hot Liquor Tank, a bar at 43 Wharf Street; Taco A Go Go, a new restaurant at 0 Canal Plaza (formerly Copperbranch); and Novel, a bookstore, cafe, and bar at 643 Congress Street were all approved for new business licenses.
School Board Budget
The budget items portion of the agenda required some explanation from Mayor Snyder. There were seven total orders on the agenda as part of the school budget approval process, and she clarified that all of the orders concerning the School Board budget would be bundled together and voted on at the next Council meeting during the second reading. However, this meeting was an opportunity for the public to give comments on all of the orders and the contents of the school budget more generally.
Those comments fell into two camps – those opposing increased expenditures, and those supporting the proposed budget.
Of the supporters, many voiced their belief in the importance of schools, especially in light of the influx of newly arrived asylum-seeking students. Some of these comments advocated for further increases to the budget; Sylvia, who did not give her last name, said that an increase in funding would be warranted in order to support students’ mental health, given the challenges they have faced during the pandemic.
Other commenters staked their opposition to the increased tax rate and overall spending. Steven Scharf of Brackett Street also opposed Order 201 in its entirety, asserting that the council should retain close involvement with spending decisions. The order in question would authorize the Board of Education to appropriate any additional state subsidy received with Council approval, but bypassing the Finance Committee.
The budget will be voted on by the council at the next Council meeting, and then sent to the ballot in June for voter approval.
The Council then moved on to the unfinished business section of the agenda. The most significant portion of this agenda was the continuation of the Clean Elections Ordinance discussion. Picking up where they left off last week, Mayor Snyder proposed that the Council present any amendments to the ordinance before moving into discussion and voting. As such, several amendments came to light.
The first was the Trevorrow-Rodriguez amendment, a new iteration of the amendment Councilor Trevorrow put forward at last week’s meeting, in collaboration with Councilor Rodriguez. The new amendment lowers the City’s contribution to the fund to $464,750 (previously $500,000) by reducing the amount of Clean Election funds available to candidates. The amendment still allows potential candidates to access the money before officially qualifying for the ballot, an aspect debated at the last meeting. Finally, this amendment breaks down the dispersal of funds into four rounds throughout the election season.
Mayor Snyder also proposed a new iteration of the amendment she put forth last week. In an attempt to incorporate feedback from the April 24th meeting, Snyder’s new amendment would increase the funds distributed to qualifying candidates, bringing the total City contribution to $367,000, as opposed to $347,750, the number she proposed last week.
Finally, Councilor Dion brought an amendment to the floor. He suggested that the specific dollar amounts need not be determined in this ordinance, explaining that the Council’s obligation is only to implement a system for the Clean Elections Fund. The allocation of funds for the ordinance, he said, should be done as part of the annual budget process.
Mayor Snyder concurred, but Councilor Trevorrow disagreed. “The Council’s obligation is to create a program that works,” she said, emphasizing that in order for the Fund to be used by potential candidates, it would need to be on par with the amounts that privately funded candidates are likely to raise. Rodriguez voiced his support as well, noting that the dollar amounts included in the amendment, while surprising to some, were based on historical fundraising data from elections past.
Councilor Zarro then spoke up, seemingly agreeing with points made in both amendments, but while noting his “sticker shock” at the costs. Through a back and forth with Interim City Manager Danielle West, Zarro brought to light the fact that it was not yet clear what the tax burden would be on residents should the Trevorrow-Rodriguez amendment pass.
Councilor Phillips, Councilor Pelletier, and Councilor Fournier all chimed in in favor of the Trevorrow-Rodriguez amendment. Pelletier underscored that voters had supported this project at the ballot, and that the Council was responsible for doing “what the voters asked us to do.”
After some procedural discussion, a vote took place first for Dion’s amendment. Snyder and Dion voted in favor; all other councilors present voted against it, and thus the amendment failed 2-6 with Ali absent.
The Trevorrow-Rodriguez amendment was voted on next; Snyder, Dion, and Zarro voted against it, while all others present voted in support, allowing the amendment to pass with a 5-3 vote. Zarro was the only councilor to oppose both amendments.
A vote then took place to pass the newly amended ordinance, with the same result: Snyder, Dion, and Zarro opposing, and the remaining councilors in support.
With a final ordinance in place, the Portland Townsman will be publishing a comprehensive guide to the new Clean Elections program in the coming weeks.
Appointments and Other Business
Appointments followed. Following a postponement last week, the Council took up Order 176, Appointing Members to Various Boards and Commissions. These appointments include Laurent Hersey to the Fish Exchange, Todd Morse to the CDBG Allocation Committee, Melissa Runstrum to the Pesticide Management Advisory Committee, and – most controversially – Matt Walker to the Rent Board.
In an emailed public comment, David Bergeron, a representative for Port Property Management, staked opposition to Walker’s appointment on the Rent Board, given his self-described “vendetta” against Port Property Management. Bergeron claimed that, given Port Property Management’s regular interaction and with the Rent Board, and its “quasi-judicial” power over them, Matt Walker’s bias made him unfit for the role.
Matt Walker was present at the meeting and made himself available for questions, though none arose. Councilor Fournier spoke up on his behalf, stating that opinions shared online shouldn’t preclude the ability to serve on a committee, and that, should an appointee’s views present an issue, that could be handled by the committee chair and the Council. Mayor Snyder also noted that more members of the community should step forward into these vacant roles, like Walker had. The order passed unanimously.
The final order of the evening was Order 202, concerning the Union Branch Trail Connector. The project incorporates land that the City obtained from the Maine Department of Transportation to create a path connecting Park Avenue to the Fore River Parkway. The Council passed the order unanimously.
The meeting adjourned just before 7:30pm.
Erica Snyder-Drummond – Erica is a proud Portland resident, documentary filmmaker, and baker. Previously she has been a campaign canvasser, an immigration advocate, and a server. You can see more of her work at www.ericajsd.com.