A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Vote Tomorrow for Portland's Charter Commission

Tomorrow (Tuesday) the City of Portland will hold an election to convene a new Charter Commission. The Commission will be responsible for reviewing and recommending changes to the city's governance structure - in effect, updating City Hall for the 21st century.

It might sound obscure, but this is an important election. City Hall needs to modernize, to become less bureaucratic and more entrepreneurial in how it gets things done. The city's status quo - taking eighteen months to decide whether or not to paint a few parking spots for scooters downtown, for instance, or four months (and counting) to decide whether or not to approve a new triple-decker on Munjoy Hill - is a burden to our taxpayers and to our economy. If our city is going to adapt to the new, carbon-constrained world, it needs to make these kinds of decisions much more quickly, and be less concerned about abandoning older, failed ways of doing business.

Luckily, this election has attracted some very talented candidates. I'd like to single one of them out for my first-ever blog endorsement: Jim Gooch, who is running for an at-large seat on the Commission.

I've worked with Jim thanks to his employment at the Trust for Public Land, where he's managing a regional open-space planning effort among about a dozen towns in the greater Bangor area. He doesn't have a specific platform or an agenda at this point, beyond creating a government that is more accountable and responsive in general, but is more focused on embracing a public process that considers a broad range of ideas and possibities. He's also a very smart guy, a former attorney with a degree from the Yale Law School, where he studied, among other things, governmental structure.

As for the other candidates, check out the League of Young Voters' election guide. I generally agree with their endorsements but would like to add special consideration for two candidates who didn't receive endorsements: Robert O'Brien (running for the District 2 seat, for the West End and Parkside) and Steven Scharf (running for the District 4 seat in East Deering). O'Brien has been a young and successfuly representative on the City's school committee and has also worked on several other progressive campaigns, including the Opportunity Maine initiative. His understanding of how the School Committee fits into the rest of the city's government would be valuable on the Commission. That said, he's running against another talented candidate, Dan Jenkins, a lifelong Portlander and a recent Muskie School graduate with some really innovative ideas. I haven't yet decided how I'll cast my ballot tomorrow, but I think that Portland would be well-served by either of these guys.

In District 4, I'd like to encourage people to vote for Steve Scharf. Steve has attended more meetings in City Hall than anyone else, and he knows how city government works - and doesn't work - better than almost anyone else in the city, including most City Councilors. He's a Republican with a strong libertarian streak, which will be an important perspective for a City that's trying to reform its government into something that's sleeker and more responsive (sure, I might not agree with his stances on abortion or the state's human welfare budget, but those things are out of bounds for a Charter Commission to deal with). And Steve's been an excellent and devoted defender of bicycle and pedestrian issues as a long-time member of the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, where it's been my pleasure to work with him.

So don't forget to vote in tomorrow's citywide election. Polls will open at 7 am and close at 8 pm.
Click here for a list of polling places.

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