Anna Trevorrow, At-large Portland Charter Commissioner

Friday, May 29, 2009

Anna's Answers to the League of Young Voters Questionnaire

Top three priorities:

1. Move from an appointed to an elected Mayor
2. Create greater neighborhood representation by examining districts and at-large vs. district seats
3. Attain greater accountability for City Hall officials

Applicable experience:

-- Education: B.A., English, University of Southern Maine, 2006; Continuing courses, Northern New England Center for Financial Training, presen
-- Employment: Norway Savings Bank, Portland, ME, Customer Service Representative
-- Other: Maine Green Independent Party, Chair, present; MGIP Sub-Committees: Bylaws Committee Member, Legislative Recruitment Committee Member, Convention Committee Member
-- Former candidate for Portland School Committee, Fall 2008
--Worked on the "Save Our Polling Places" campaign, helping to keep 16 polls open for the historic Election of 2008.

Hope to Accomplish:

In addition to my top three priorities, I hope to engage the public, and solicit public input to create a workable Charter, with the best chance for ratification by Portland voters.

Issues w/in current structure:

-- The City Manager holds too many executive powers, with a lack of accountability to the voters.
-- At-large seats draw big money to local politics, and are less effective in representing neighborhoods.
-- School budget has a history of overspending.

1986 Report:

The report recommended 9 district Council seats that were elected at-large. This would have brought more money into the election process, and potentially deprive neighborhoods of their choices in representation.
The Commission must think about the likelihood of ratification in every recommendation we make.

Other City Charters:

I’ve been examining Charters of cities of comparable population size, that demonstrate both the strong Mayor and ceremonial Mayor structures: Westbrook, Augusta, Burlington VT, and Bangor.

Support an elected Mayor?:

I would support an elected Mayor because it increases executive accountability to Portland voters. It reallocates many of the powers currently held by the City Manager to the Mayor, creating more visibility and functionality for the office of mayor. Portland is of a size that can easily sustain a strong mayor structure, and there is strong public support behind it.

Current Antiquated parts of Charter:

The Charter contains very little language on the authority of Mayor.

-- Article VI, section 5, which outlays the duties of City Manager, will need re-visiting if we change to an elected Mayor.
-- Article I, section 2, on Powers Granted, divides fiscal responsibility into two bodies, i.e., City Council and School Committee.
-- Article II, section 1, on Voting Districts remains an ongoing challenge as highlighted, though never resolved, in the 1986 report.

Consider re-districting:

I would consider re-districting in a neighborhood-oriented manner. This would preserve democracy by maximizing representation of all neighborhoods in keeping with the city’s neighborhood make-up.

Council & School Committee:

I would thoroughly examine the relationship between School Committee and City Council, particularly where the Charter relates to budget issues. Currently the city finances are divided into two bodies, City Council and School Committee. Given the history of school budget overspending, a change in this dynamic is worth consideration.

Role in public education:

The commission should play an active role in public education. The public should know that this is an historic opportunity to amend the governing document of our city. Charter commission should make use of media, public minutes, and outreach to various organizations in Portland.

Role in public engagement:

Again the commission should play an active role. The commission should seek input, and strive to host & attend meetings of organizations throughout Portland. Particularly, I would like the commission to engage actively with neighborhood associations throughout Portland, by hosting mutual meetings, to get a feel for the wants of all Portland neighborhoods.

What Else?:

I’d like to thank the League of Young Voters for their efforts to inform and engage the Portland public on the issues and candidates surrounding City Charter Commission. Personally, I am excited for the opportunity to take part in this historic process, and to serve the public as a representative to the commission.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Elected Mayor ...

Many Portland voters have heard the rhetoric surrounding the City Charter Commission race concerning an “elected mayor.” But, what are we really talking about? And, what does it mean to be “in support of” versus “in opposition to” an elected mayor?

Many cities that have adopted a city charter operate, as Portland does, within a “council-mayor” structure of government. You have a City Council of some kind, and a Mayor in some fashion. In a (sub-category) “weak mayor,” a.k.a., “ceremonial mayor” structure, the mayor is usually a member of the City Council, and thus, the City Council embodies both the legislative and executive branches of government. Under the same structure, the mayor may either be appointed (as in our case in Portland), or elected. In either case, the mayor’s authority is largely ceremonial (cutting ribbons, and issuing keys, etc.).

On the other side of the spectrum, you have a “strong mayor” structure of government, where the mayor is separated out from the council entirely. The council, then, represents the legislative body of government, and the mayor, the executive. Typically, in this set-up, the mayor presides over more “executive” tasks, such as budget development and administrative oversight. In this form, the mayor is almost always popularly elected.

Where does the City Manager fit in? The “ceremonial mayor” system of government tends to go hand in hand with a “strong” city manager. The city manager retains prime responsibility for setting budgets and overseeing departments and reports directly to the whole council. But, when you shift those responsibilities to the mayor in “strong mayor” fashion, the city manager’s role naturally becomes more like an assistant to the mayor.

It is important to note that while charter revision does not change the socio-political make-up of the city, revising our governing structure can make it simpler or more difficult for competing interests to advance their causes. So, it is important to me that such a significant charter commission recommendation as a strong, elected mayor, be offset with checks and balances.

I favor an elected mayor, and lean toward a “strong-mayor” structure for Portland because it would allow for executive accountability to Portland voters by shifting executive authorities to an elected position. It is a more democratic process. However, I am leery of the potential for an overly powerful executive to emerge. Thus, I would like to investigate measures that would limit executive power, such as regulating mayoral campaign financing so that a private interest could not “buy” the position. I would examine term length, term limits, and recall procedures for the office of mayor to increase mayoral accountability to the public. And I would under no circumstances favor granting veto power to the mayor.

In my conversations with Portlanders throughout my campaign, I believe a strong majority favor an elected mayor. At the same time, implementing the right mechanisms for checks and balances addresses the concerns I have heard in opposition to a strong mayor. In the end, whether or not an elected mayor will empower the Portland electorate will depend on the details and execution. That is what the Charter Commission will spend a great deal of time researching and debating. Hopefully, the right balance can be struck. Nonetheless, I believe the general structure of an elected mayor with a strong set of checks on executive authority fits the socio-political dynamic of Portland today.