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Portland Charter Commission - At Large Questionnaire Responses
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Portland Charter Commission - At Large Questionnaire

Presented by:

Back Cove Neighborhood Association

Deering Center Neighborhood Association

Deering Highlands Neighborhood Association

Friends of Woodfords Corner

Nason's Corner Neighborhood Association

Stroudwater Neighborhood Association

Woodford Oakdale Neighborhood Association


Benjamin Grant

Anthony Emerson

Marpheen Chann

Lawson Condrey

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef

Ian Houseal

William Bailey

Patricia Washburn

Catherine Buxton

Steven DiMillo

Responses were limited to 150 words. If there is an asterisk at the end of a response, it was cut for length.  

Click the links below to jump to responses:

Question 1: Why are you running for a seat on the Charter Commission?

Question 2: What qualifies you to help shape the future of our city?

Question 3: List and describe three areas where you think the City of Portland’s charter could use attention and revision.

Question 4: Tell us about your experience working on a challenging issue with a group of people with diverse perspectives.

Question 5: Would you like to see racial and economic equity better addressed in Portland’s Charter? If yes, what specific ideas do you have to help make that happen?

Question 6: Portland has gone from a mayor who is essentially ceremonial to a popularly elected position with limited powers. Some people advocate for a stronger role for the Mayor. Do you agree (or not) and why?

Question 7: How do you feel about the role of Portland’s City Manager? Do you feel it could or should be changed, and if so, why?

Question 8: Do you think the Charter should implement publicly funded, clean elections for the City of Portland (includes School Board and City Council elections)? Why or why not?

Question 9: Currently, after the School Board votes to approve their budget, it must then be approved by the City Council and then approved by the voters in a city-wide election. What are your thoughts on the current school budget process? Would you like to see any changes? If so, what specifically would they be?

Question 10: Various people running for Charter Commission have said they seek more “transparency” in city government. What does “transparency” mean to you? Where could the City of Portland be more “transparent”?

Question 1: Why are you running for a seat on the Charter Commission?

Benjamin Grant: The system set up by the last Commission has not worked well, so it's time to reform again. I believe with some changes to our systems, the people we elect will be able to make better policy for Portland and make progress on our toughest issues. Our governance needs to be more accountable and responsive.

Anthony Emerson: I feel that the working class in this city has long been exploited and mistreated, and that workers lack the proper channels to be adequately represented in our municipal government. Barriers to participation in Portland politics are too high. I’m running to lower those barriers and strengthen our democracy.

Marpheen Chann: I love and care about the city of Portland and its future. I was born in California to Cambodian refugees who decided to move uproot their lives yet again and move all the way to Portland, Maine, in the 90s. My mom couldn't take care of the four of us so we were put in foster care. Later we were reunited and adopted by a family in Naples, Maine. I returned to Portland to attend USM in 2010. Portland is where I want to lay down my roots, buy a house, and start a family. Our schools and our quality of life are a major reason why people move here... but it's getting increasingly hard to stay here. I'm running because I want to be a part of the change I want to see, a Portland that is more inclusive and responsive, transparent and accountable, and fair and equitable.

Lawson Condrey: I've been involved civically since moving to Portland in 2014. Since 2016 I've volunteered at Portland Adult Ed as an English tutor and I'm on the CDBG committee. Both positions have a real impact on Portlanders that benefits their daily lives. However, the Charter Commission gives me an opportunity to have a larger impact on a bigger group of people in a positive way. Our city faces a host of challenges but with the Charter Commission we have an opportunity to create a government that works for everyone by making clearer how decisions are made in City Hall and who can make those decisions.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef:
 I'm running for Portland Charter Commission At-Large to help build a city government that includes all its residents' voices by design, not just a FEW with the time or resources. I want to see more accountability, transparency, fair, and inclusion on Portland's Charter. That’s the reason I’m running for the charter commission.

Ian Houseal: I am seeking an at large seat on the Charter Commission to volunteer for this important public activity.

William Bailey: I am running for the Charter Commission to bring balance. I feel the schools, the school board and the city council are all leaning in one direction, with one viewpoint. Portland is made up of many different viewpoints and I think they all need be represented. I want to bring a common sense approach to the Charter Commission.

Patricia Washburn: Because I have loved and benefited from the treasure that is Portland for many years, and it's my turn to give back.

Catherine Buxton: I believe that if we are to combat systemic inequalities of all kinds, we have to work on the systems. I can't think of a more structural element to civic life here in Portland than our Charter.

I care deeply about building community and doing that in new, creative ways. I look forward to collaborating, not just with other commissioners, but our whole community as we strive to better share power across our city. I'm running because I want to listen to the many diverse stakeholders in the Charter and help design a revision process that involves more voices and makes more people feel substantively heard, valued, and engaged in the decisions that impact their day-to-day lives.

Steven DiMillo: I think my input would add needed balance to the commission.

Question 2: What qualifies you to help shape the future of our city?

Benjamin Grant: I have roots in the community - through my own volunteer work for the Ocean Ave PTO and PAYSA, as well as my wife's work for Greater Portland Health. We have two kids in the public schools and have lived in Portland for 20 years. Professionally, I am a Union and employee attorney - as well as having a long career in state politics. I have held many leadership roles, and I have proven that I can handle tough public assignments.

Anthony Emerson: I’m what is now called an essential worker. As someone who leads a team of mostly teenagers during a global pandemic, I’ve seen my coworkers exhibit tremendous courage, strength, and resilience. I’ve also seen those qualities go unrecognized by our company and by our local government. We struggle to pay rent. We struggle to make car payments. We struggle with student loans. We were the first line of defense for the pandemic, but apparently we matter so little that we’re forced into poverty. I don’t have the traditional experience, but I do have real life experience.

Marpheen Chann: I am deeply committed to thoughtful and pragmatic public service. I serve on Portland's Planning Board, as president of the Cambodian Community Association of Maine, and on the boards of a number of organizations focused on LGBTQ+ and immigrants' rights. I am a graduate of the Maine School of Law, where I studied state and local government, administrative law, and land use. I am also a student at the Muskie School of Public Service where I am studying urban planning."

Lawson Condrey: I'm a project manager for a software consulting company for my day job. My job description could be boiled down to: creating solutions for complex problems, and then communicating those solutions to disparate groups of people. Being fortunate enough to win a seat on the commission would mean working with a diverse group of people and collaborating on complex issues. Also, I don't pretend to have all the answers — I think my disposition and platform allow for nuance and I look forward to hearing others' views on key issues that will affect how our city is run for years to come.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef: I bring years of experience as a political activist supporting progressive policies: expanded Medicaid, collected petition signatures for Universal In-Home Care for seniors and disability in Maine, Ranked Choice Voting in Maine, Ranked Choice Voting in Portland, and many more. I am looking to use the skills that I have as a community organizer and political activist that I developed during my years in political involvement to bring change to Portland.

Ian Houseal: Myself and my family are invested in Portland as owners of property, participants in the school system, and have a deep understanding of Portland’s municipal government, having worked directly for the City Manager and City Council for seven years immediately following the last charter changes.  As a current practitioner of local government I can help translate the interests of the public into a vision for the future as manifest in the charter.

William Bailey: I grew up in Portland. I own a home here. I am a taxpayer.  I am raising 2 kids in the Portland school system. I feel this more than qualifies me to have my finger on the pulse of the hard working people of Portland.

Patricia Washburn: I'm smart, work well with others, communicate well, and bring the important perspectives of tenants and people with disabilities to the table.

Catherine Buxton: I live here. I believe that whether you're running for office, raising a kid here, working at a grocery store or your own business, or anything in between, you're impacting the city with your actions and your votes. And that qualifies you to shape the future here. If want more explanation of who I am: I work in the field of violence prevention and consent education, and the facilitation skills I've developed over the past 7 years are invaluable. I help broker compassionate conversations across identity, difference, conflict, trauma, and lived experiences, with the goal of building students' shared understanding and desire for community change. I have watched and helped facilitate fruitful collaboration between city staff, non-profit organizations, and dedicated citizens during my time at Portland Trails. I will also draw on my experience as a renter, pedestrian, cyclist, theatre artist, bartender, and my numerous years in feminist organizing spaces *

Steven DiMillo: I’m a lifelong resident of Portland, educated in the Portland schools, raised my family in Deering Center, volunteered for many years in the schools, am truly interested in the quality of life for our residents and as a business operator, have some insight on the economics of how the city runs.

Question 3: List and describe three areas where you think the City of Portland’s charter could use attention and revision.

Benjamin Grant: The role of the Mayor and City Manager: I favor an executive Mayor-style system where much of the CM's power is transferred to the Mayor. Make-up of the Council: I favor changing to 9 city districts and eliminating the at-large Council seats - in order to make the Council more neighborhood-based. Elections reform: I favor moving the election of the Mayor to a high turnout election, implementing public financing, and allowing non-citizen residents to vote.

Anthony Emerson: 
1) The addition of a clean elections program to lower the barriers to working class participation in politics

2) Removing the city council’s veto on the school budget. We have school board. Let them do their jobs.

3) Expansion of the city council, to allow for more neighborhood representation, including a councilor for the islands only.

Marpheen Chann:
1) Clear and distinct roles for the mayor and manager positions. Whenever there is a new position or institution, there is likely to be conflict. But now that we've experienced that conflict, we can go in and look at how we can reach equilibrium, make adjustments, put in checks and balances, and create a system where the mayor has more power over policy and oversight and the manager supports the mayor and council by managing day-to-day operations.

2) More representative and responsive council. The commission ought to review the roles of some of the at-large councilors and consider making them district seats, which will allow us to reapportion and redraw smaller districts that allow for councilors to be "closer to home."

3) Enshrining racial and social justice in our charter. I propose a permanent human rights commission and merging the police review subcommittee into that body.

Lawson Condrey:

1) Strong Mayor - Political decisions should be made by those who are elected so that those decisions are accountable to the voters. More on this below!

2) Increase Representation - More, small districts that are more neighborhood-oriented. This would: allow for more access to our representatives, increase accessibility for people to get involved, and would make campaigns cheaper. This alone would have the most direct impact on Portlanders. If your representative actually lives in your neighborhood then they would more likely share concerns with people in that neighborhood.

3) Resources for Representatives - There should be staff allocated to city councilors so that they can make nuanced and sound policy. Our representatives have day jobs and shouldn’t be expected to have 2 full-time jobs without support. This would empower our representatives to make clearer policy and have an ability to address more issues, more frequently.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef: I am for amending the charter to eliminate the unelected City Manager position and create a strong elected executive Mayor. I am for allowing all Portland adult residents the right to vote in municipal elections regardless of citizenship. I support amending the charter to create a fully resourced, independent citizen oversight board of the Police.

Ian Houseal: I think that the charter could use attention with regard to referendum process and procedure.  Issues of referendum is absent from the charter in almost all forms and are instead housed as an ordinance, this is the wrong place and should be changed.  Referendum included voter issues such as recall of elected officials, petitions and petitioners, and referendums in general and in what form.  This should be clarified in the charter.  I also think that improved representative accountability should also be discussed by the commission such as the make-up of the City Council and Mayor seat in representing the districts and possibly school board.

William Bailey: I think it's up to the people of Portland to decide the areas that need attention and put their trust in the candidates that they elect to address them. The Charter Commission is for the people it is not for the candidates to decide.

Patricia Washburn: The structure of city government needs to be reformed to make the city more responsive to the voters. Housing is in crisis in the city and the charter can help streamline measures to address this need. COVID has taught us the value of a coordinated and effective public health system, and the charter can help foster such a system including mental health efforts.

Catherine Buxton:
1) Building more public, participatory City Hall: It is important that the Commission ask how the Charter can make it easier for regular people to access and impact decisions made at City Hall. We should increase City Councilor pay so councilors can be more responsive and thorough, and we should provide designated staff, or as other candidates have suggested, a Public Advocate, to respond and advocate for constituents. We need to diversify who is serving on boards/committees. I'd also like to explore Community or Neighborhood Assemblies as a way of increasing public participation.

2) Racial Justice: The Charter says very little currently to truly address racial justice, and it is vital we codify and move resources towards this value (see answer below.)

3) Representation: We need to ensure our elected leaders better represent people who live here. One way to do this is eliminate at-large seats in favor of *

Steven DiMillo: I have no preconceived notions for any changes, only an interest in what others are seeking for change.

Question 4: Tell us about your experience working on a challenging issue with a group of people with diverse perspectives.

Benjamin Grant: The best example from my past is serving as the co-Chair of Governor Mills' transition team. We brought together a diverse set of leaders from around Maine to help the then-Governor Elect choose an A+ cabinet (and the first majority female cabinet!). This work required balancing the needs and wants of hundreds of people and interest groups - and I think we did it very well.

Anthony Emerson: Oh wow, where to start. I have so many of these stories from work. Every day is a challenge trying to get a group of people to work and serve customers. Meanwhile they’re balancing their private lives, many of them have issues at home which occasionally bleed into the workplace. My job is to ensure that the customer is taken care of, but also that my coworkers are taken care of. That they’re in a good headspace.

Marpheen Chann: I have a served as a member of several boards and committees, including the Planning Board. My approach to the issues has always been to listen to others, to engage thoughtfully, and treat each person with dignity and respect. My goal is to get to YES with as much buy-in as possible and that doesn't happen by tearing others down or drawing lines in the sand. That's why I hope the commission will also focus on how to facilitate collaborative and inclusive processes and discussions before digging deep into the charter and create a community agreement that includes guidelines for us to follow. At the same time, we must realize that constructive conflict could be a good sign that we are working through some hard material and difficult issues - without letting it devolve into name-calling and disrespectful dialogue.

Lawson Condrey: Aside from my day job as a project manager, I'm on the city's Community Development Block Grant Committee (CDBG). It's a committee entirely composed of Portlanders who care deeply about the city and its woes. The mission of the committee is to review and assess applications for funds that go towards anything from repairing fences to upgrading machinery in a shelter's kitchen to helping an organization hire more staff. The committee meets weekly over the course of 3-4 months and deliberates the value of one organization's need over another to help determine who, in the end, will receive part of the finite amount of funds available to be dispersed. The discussions can be long but everyone makes a point to listen; we debate but don't argue. We work together on teasing out any detail that could help an applicant get the money they need for their mission.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef: There three ways of working with people with different opinions: First, let go of the “need to be right.” I remind myself that my opinion or my solution might not be the right or only one. Just listen to other opinions, and look for the common purpose and what we have in common. Second, Communicate: differences and tensions often result from lack of communication, incorrect and unnecessary assumptions. If I am part of the team, speaking up and communicating is very important to me. Last is to invite and engage people into the discussion, healthy debate, and exchange. I love teamwork, and I'm very committed to this community and charter commission. I really enjoy engaging with my fellow Portlanders and trying to get them excited about this incredible opportunity that we have.

Ian Houseal: I have worked with the public, community members, neighborhoods, and elected officials, daily for the last 15 years.  Each issue I have worked on is always represented by diverse perspectives.  My approach is always to build understanding and collaborative.  I always seek to find common ground and consensus.

William Bailey: I am a machinist, I work on challenges everyday with a team of people who have different ideas on how to get the job done. Different people have different ideas and if you just take the time to listen, there is usually more than a single way to reach the same goal.

Patricia Washburn: Right now I'm working with the Rose Slate, a group of four women candidates for Charter Commission, to try to win voters' attention while fending off attacks from negative campaigning and critics of progressive values. While we share many values, we have VERY different perspectives, and it's been a learning experience to make room for each of us to manage our own campaigns while also finding common ground on which to collaborate.

Catherine Buxton: During a recent Speak About It school program, we held a post-show discussion about sexuality and assault prevention. I could feel visceral tension in the room. Many boys were quick to say they felt attacked by the conversation around consent, they didn't need this kind of program. Kids of all genders expressed they felt it was too awkward to talk about sex. Meanwhile other students felt hurt that their peers wanted to disregard a show that resonated so much for them. It took a lot of gentle guidance and asking students: ""Why do you think that is?"" to find the root of the tension and move towards action. Finally, some of the boys explained they never get this kind of education early enough, so by the time they do it feels like punishment instead of engagement. That resonated with the students who loved our work too. They wanted better sex ed  *

Steven DiMillo: I have worked on waterfront zoning issues for decades and have learned to work collaboratively with others to resolve issues.

Question 5: Would you like to see racial and economic equity better addressed in Portland’s Charter? If yes, what specific ideas do you have to help make that happen?

Benjamin Grant: Yes. I favor a mirror of the legislation in Augusta recently passed to require a racial impact study of new laws. I also favor changes to the budgeting process that will put the public schools in a better position to close the racial achievement gap more rapidly.

Anthony Emerson: Absolutely. I think one way we can directly address economic equity is to lower participation barriers in municipal government. Working class people in Portland are more likely to be people of color, they’re more likely to be queer, they’re more likely to be women. As a white male, I will step back on the racial issue to allow people of color to take the lead, so that white voices do not drown out people of color on this issue.

Marpheen Chann: Yes, I support addressing racial and economic equity in Portland's charter. I support a permanent human rights commission that will conduct research, education, and ongoing recommendations to the mayor and council; racial equity impact statements on policy decisions made by the mayor, and council and administrative rulemaking by the manager and city staff; land acknowledgment in the charter preamble; and allowing noncitizen voting in school board and school budget elections with implementation guidelines to address safety and privacy concerns.

Lawson Condrey: I think there are opportunities to remedy inherent flaws in our system by adding districts. This way more, different types of people can get involved in the process who otherwise wouldn't. My guiding principle through this process is that political decisions should be made by elected people. I want to empower our representatives (mayor/councilors) to work collaboratively on the budget (an inherently political document) and other policy issues. If we can make a clearer outline of how decisions are made in city hall then we can allow more room for creative ideas to address racial and economic disparity in our city.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef: Yes, I support expanding the city council to include more seats, paid a decent wage for Councilors, and eliminating at-large seats on the council to best increase representation from diverse groups since at-large seats require significant time and money to win.

Ian Houseal: I would.  I think there is a need for an ombudsperson or public advocate position specified in the charter to help navigate local government and advocate for those with a lesser voice such as also for the environment including land, air, and water of Portland.  Another position to write into the charter is the Chief of Police.  This simple step will improve police accountability to the people as there is a direct authorization from the people to the Police through the charter and therefore opportunity for feedback.  Many other charters of the State contain these types of positions and will go a long way of improving balance.

William Bailey: I feel that Portland Maine is a place where you can achieve any goal you set for yourself if you are willing to work hard. Regardless of age, gender, race, beliefs you can succeed here if you are willing to work for it. Everyone is equal here.

Patricia Washburn: Yes! One significant improvement would be to pay a living wage to City Council and School Committee members so that these roles are not restricted to the affluent.

Catherine Buxton: Absolutely. I believe that if the Commission doesn't make racial equity a priority, we will have failed. First and foremost, as a white candidate I believe it's important to be led by candidates and communities of color in this charge. I support, as others have proposed exploring Racial Impact Statements, and I'd love to look at how we nominate and appoint community boards, with specific eye to increasing diversity, especially racial and economic. I support Shay Stewart Bouley's idea of an equity council, and putting city resources specifically towards this work. I support All-Resident or non-citizen voting. I think the Charter could have an important role in how we do policing in Portland. This can be small: from changing who hires/fires the police chief or empowering a Citizen Review Board, or even bigger things like establishing a new public safety department. Above all else it is important,
especially in *

Steven DiMillo: I’m ready to listen to others with those issues on their agenda.

Question 6: Portland has gone from a mayor who is essentially ceremonial to a popularly elected position with limited powers. Some people advocate for a stronger role for the Mayor. Do you agree (or not) and why?

Benjamin Grant: Agree. The Mayor is the representative of the people, and should be able to better implement the platform he or she ran on in the winning campaign. This requires reform to ensure the Mayor comes into office with some number of top administrators, and it also requires transferring responsibility for drafting the full city budget from staff to the Mayor's office. The elected Mayor should be setting the broad policy direction for the City.

Anthony Emerson: Yes. The current mayor position is too vague. The mayor under the current charter is effectively another at-large city councilor, but one who gets paid more than the other councilors, and gets a fancy corner office. Let’s make the mayor earn that salary by moving to an executive mayor system, one where the buck stops with them.

Marpheen Chann: I agree that the mayor's role should be strengthened in terms of policymaking and more oversight role over the budget process. The budget is, in fact, one of the most consequential policy documents the city has. No progress can be made on issues like housing, homelessness and climate change WITHOUT proper funding. The mayor can open up the budget process and bring in more voices and stakeholders to the table make it a more public and participatory budgeting process, rather than a rushed ordeal at the tail end of the fiscal year.

Lawson Condrey: I do! Again, my guiding principle is that political decisions should be made by people who are elected. Setting priorities and a vision for the city should be done in concert with the City Council. This will ensure that those elected are accountable for the decisions they make and will have to be more transparent about those decisions. Right now it's confusing where the buck stops and this is our opportunity to make clear how decisions are made at city hall. The budget, for example, is a political document (where our money goes is political) and should be directly accountable to Portlanders.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef: Yes, I am for establishing a Strong Mayor-Council system with checks and balances, which would make Portland’s government more accountable. A Strong Mayor-Council system will give the people direct accountability at all policy-making and administrative levels of City Hall.

Ian Houseal: I do not support more executive authority resting with one elected official.  The prior charter changes resulted in the Mayor’s Seat changing to an elected at large seat rather than selected by caucus of the City Council.  This topic should be discussed further with the Commission and the public as there seems to be not only a misconception of the current role of the Mayor, but a general misconception of roles, responsibilities, and duties of elected officials and appointed officials.  I think there are issues of balance within the City Council that should be addressed and I would like to discuss with the charter commission how that imbalance might be addressed, but it does not include giving the Mayor more power.

William Bailey: I do not agree. I feel that to be in charge of the largest municipality in the state of Maine, you need to be highly skilled and highly trained for that role. I believe the city manager is the person for this job. A popularly elected Mayor may not possess a single skill needed to perform the duties now being performed by the city manager.

Patricia Washburn: I would like the administration of the city to be carried out by a mayor who is responsive to, and responsible to, the voters. Obviously city employees would be needed to do the day-to-day work, but the decision-making should rest with the mayor.

Catherine Buxton: I agree. I support establishing a mayor-council government where our elected leaders are the principal policy makers. I support a strong mayor responsible for building and directing policy, budgeting, and appointing senior staff with significant oversight by the Council. Elected representatives are more responsive to voters and should be empowered to make good on the policy promises they make whilst campaigning.

Steven DiMillo: I do not support a stronger role for our mayor. Changing the charter to allow the mayor be the chief administrator is moving towards decisions being made that could be made for political reasons.

Question 7: How do you feel about the role of Portland’s City Manager? Do you feel it could or should be changed, and if so, why?

Benjamin Grant: I believe the CM should be more of an appointed administrator, and the broad policy choices should be made by the Mayor and the Council. We still need professionals to run much of the day-to-day operations of the City, but the voters deserve to have big decisions made by those who are elected.  

Anthony Emerson: I think the city manager under the current charter is too powerful. I’m a Democrat in both the party sense and the ideology sense: I think someone who is making policy decisions should be accountable to the voters. I think there’s value in a city manager to run the day to day operations of the city, but who ultimately acts under guidance from the council and a stronger mayor.

Marpheen Chann: I believe improvements can be made to address the concerns that the city manager is unelected and unaccountable. I would like to see the nominating, appointing, and performance review led by the mayor. The mayor should also be allowed to dismiss the manager for cause and with the approval of the council. This helps bring more accountability to the position of manager and strengthens both the mayor and council without completely eliminating the manager position.

Lawson Condrey: We need a city manager/administrator. Both things can be true in this conversation - we need both a stronger mayor and someone who can keep the trains running on time. I don't expect a mayor (i.e. politician) to know how to maintain payroll for city staff or manage grants. We need someone who can run the day-to-day operations of the city. This position should be removed from making political decisions and should be charged with managing and executing policy set forth by elected leaders.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef: Yes, I am for eliminating the City Manager position, which has been unaccountable to marginalized people. Portland is currently operated by a City Manager, and the position of Mayor is simply a "figurehead" position. The City Manager is not elected by the Voters and has no term limits but is responsible for running our City. I want to eliminate this position and reform because I want our city government to represent ALL Portland residents and make our government accountable. Many growing cities across the Nation have moved away from this outdated form of council-manager system. It's time we do the same thing.

Ian Houseal: I do not advocate for more power authorized to the City Manager nor do I advocate for eliminating the position.  The City Manager is there for reasons of due process, upholding the charter and the Ordinances of the City and obviously this includes balancing the budget.  I do think the charter commission should review the roles and responsibilities of positions specified in the charter and involve the public in that review and discussion.

William Bailey: I feel the city manager is an essential role for the city of Portland. The city manager is a highly skilled, trained professional whose task is to run the city. I feel it is a highly specialized job that takes a unique individual with a unique skill set.

Patricia Washburn: It should be eliminated. It has become a nexus of power that is neither supported by nor responsible to the voters.

Catherine Buxton: I support eliminating the city manager position in favor of city administrator to oversee day-to-day operations, provide managerial support for staff/department heads, and carry out policy directives from Council.

Steven DiMillo: No change needed. The council controls the city manager and can direct the manager accordingly.

Question 8: Do you think the Charter should implement publicly funded, clean elections for the City of Portland (includes School Board and City Council elections)? Why or why not?

Benjamin Grant: Yes, public financing of elections should be implemented in the Charter. The system has proven beyond doubt to open the doors to running for office to a wider set of people - and thus will help ensure that Portland's elected officials will be truly representative of the whole City.

Anthony Emerson: Absolutely. It’s damn near impossible to run for office in this city without a six figure salary backing you up. I’ll be honest: I can’t really run a competitive campaign making minimum wage. A clean elections program would be so helpful for working class people to get into the halls of power in this city.

Marpheen Chann: I support having the Charter authorize and layout the framework and guidelines for clean elections, including funding and whether it's tied to a consumer index, etc., but that the implementation should be left to the mayor, council, and city staff. Implementation should be flexible to allow for necessary changes to be made and to allow the system to be nimble and adaptable. As part of these discussions, I will push to look into whether the city can contract or work with the Maine Ethics Commission to use their existing online reporting system. The city already utilizes the Ethic Commission's forms, rules, etc., so it could be a reasponable solution to help bring down the initial cost of setup and administration of the fund.

Lawson Condrey: Elections in Portland are prohibitively expensive for most people to even consider running. There should be a fund available to allow for anyone who wants to run to have that opportunity. But I think it should be different allocations for larger races (like the Mayoral) versus district-wide races (like city council) especially if districts are smaller.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef: Yes, I am for publicly funded elections because ordinary people like me, running for office, can’t get massive campaign checks or contribute from large corporations, lobbyists, and special interest groups. We need strong clean elections founded for our city government to work on solutions for us instead of helping out rich corporations and their lobbyists. If I get elected, I will propose publicly funded municipal elections, including School Board, City Council elections, and other elections.

Ian Houseal: I do not support funding political campaigns with property tax funds.  Local elections are not politically affiliated and should remain as such.  I would be interested in discussing campaign funding limits in local elections.  I think running for office is really about knowing your constituents.  It is grassroots and about conversations with the community.  I think paid advertising should be limited.  I am appalled by how much corporate funding has gone into this local election.  That multiple candidates have spent more than $6,000 on advertising is appalling.   The answer is not to fund election campaigns with public funds.

William Bailey: I do not agree with any taxpayer funded clean elections. The taxpayers of the city of Portland are over burdened as it is. I think clean elections seem like a good idea until you delve into what they could actually mean for the taxpayers and the city. I don't believe handing out money to anyone and everyone who thinks they want to run for office is a good idea.

Patricia Washburn: Absolutely! Publicly funding elections would allow working-class Portlanders to take more of a role in the running of the city.

Catherine Buxton: Yes! Even a local race like this is a financial challenge and prohibitive for young people, working class people, or folks with limited means or access to generational wealth, especially people of color. Clean elections funding will not only diversify the pool of candidates and provide financial support for campaign expenses like sign printing and websites, it will also ensure that candidates are spending time engaging with voters, not fundraising and appeasing donors. Our statewide clean elections program is widely popular with voters, and I support fully funding a citywide program too.

Steven DiMillo: I do not support public funding of candidates. I feel this will only increase our already high property tax rates. Let people spend their own money.

Question 9: Currently, after the School Board votes to approve their budget, it must then be approved by the City Council and then approved by the voters in a city-wide election. What are your thoughts on the current school budget process? Would you like to see any changes? If so, what specifically would they be?

Benjamin Grant: This is the most important issue to me, and the one that animated me to run for the Commission. We simply can no longer tolerate the nonsensical budget process we all have to suffer through each spring. We need to have the budget proposed by the Mayor at the outset, so all the choices for the City are known much earlier and in a much more comprehensible way. We need to end the fiction of a school "side" and a city "side" budget - and talk about how ALL of our priorities fit together.

Anthony Emerson: We need to remove the city council from the school budget process completely. The city council should not hold veto power over the school board. Why even have an elected school board at that point? We elected school board members to do a job. Let them send their budget to the voters.

Marpheen Chann: I would like to see the School Board have more independence around budgeting and school policymaking, while still allowing the mayor to be involved, to represent the council, and to collaborate on making the municipal budgeting process more public and more participatory. However, I would need to discuss the details with fellow commissioners and current and past school board members and the public to iron out solutions.

Lawson Condrey: I think there are ways to remove the city council vote from the process. Following my own logic about empowering our representatives and holding them accountable then that should follow to the School Board reps. The school budget approval process is convoluted and there the board should have more independence. I think there are creative ways to make it more collaborative with the city council and the mayor. I still favor the budget going to a public vote but we should engage more people in the process and make that vote occur during time where people actually turn out, like a November election.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef: The only thing I would change about the process is to remove the City Council’s approval. The school board should approve the budget and next approve it by Portland voters in a city-wide election. City Council can focus on other budgets, but it should leave it to the School Board and Portland voters for the school’s budget.

Ian Houseal: I don’t see any need to make changes to the school budget process through the commission.  I understand the process and it is inclusive of limits; however, I am open to reviewing this topic with the Charter Commission.  I have not heard a full argument as to for what purpose the current process would be changed and as the requisite voter approval is partly dictated by State Law and the charter cannot change that fact, I don’t see what change could be made.  I think I would have to get an explanation of the mechanics of making an alternate budget approval process practical.

William Bailey: I like the checks and balances of the current system. The people paying for the budget should never be excluded from the approval system, in my opinion.

Patricia Washburn: The election is unwieldy and doesn't get good participation, so that only a few voters can change the outcome. I'd like to see a more streamlined process that prioritizes equity in school.

Catherine Buxton: This past year has been very illustrative to me about this process, and I thank the number of organizers and School staff who have worked so hard on this year's budget. I support removing the City Council approval-step in the process, as this nearly always results in added scrutiny and reductions to the School budget in ways that the City budget is not often subjected to.  While our councilors and school board are elected by the same people, because of who turns out to vote and how the Council is structured, the Council does not always best represent the needs of students. They have too much power to make changes to the budget before it even gets to the voters.

Steven DiMillo: Leave the process as is. There’s plenty of opportunity for public input with the current arrangement.

Question 10: Various people running for Charter Commission have said they seek more “transparency” in city government. What does “transparency” mean to you? Where could the City of Portland be more “transparent”?

Benjamin Grant: I think this means that the people understand who is making decisions and why they are made. It means fewer surprises and obvious channels for advocacy. I think the reforms I have proposed in the other questions will all contribute to a more transparent City government.

Anthony Emerson: Transparency, to me, means that average people can look at and understand what’s going on in their local government, and unfortunately we don’t really have that in Portland right now. City council districts are too big to adequately represent the diverse neighborhoods held within them. The local government bureaucracy is too inaccessible for most people. I’m gonna sound like a broken record but: let’s tear down the barriers that prevent people from having a local government that represents them.

Marpheen Chann: Transparency, to me, means that the average Portland resident should be able to reasonably understand how our municipal government works, the processes, the major public officials, and how decisions are made. It also means that they are able to see clearly where and when they can engage in the democratic process. This could include following guidelines from Open Maine and Open America.

Lawson Condrey: From better communication to enhanced education around what the city is prioritizing — the Charter Commission is our best chance at making sure our government works for all of us. And that begins with a better understanding for all Portlanders what is happening inside City Hall. I believe the proposals above and others can make our government more accountable, accessible, and transparent. If our reps are actually from the neighborhoods where their constituents live then there will be a better likelihood of shared concerns and issues among them. If the power dynamics are less confusing then people will better understand how decisions are made. If our representatives have support then they can spend more time engaging with constituents in neighborhood, and so on. This is our best chance at making a big impact on the city and one that can be positive if we do it right.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef: When I say, I will make sure that the charter commission process is accountable and transparent. What I mean, an ethical process that shapes how decisions are made and conducted. Particularly when a decision will affect our community, it is very important for charter commissioners to make the basis of their decision clear to Portlanders. It should be more what our community wants, not what we think our community wants. That is why I will make sure to make Portlanders part of this process from beginning to end.

Ian Houseal: I would prefer to focus my time on the charter commission improving accountability.  For the public, transparency is just watching the decisions that the elected and appointed officials make, while accountability is actually holding the elected officials and appointed officials accountable to the decisions they make.  On the charter commission I will focus on having referendum processes specified in the charter; consider and act on increasing the districts seats while decreasing the at large seats; and reviewing the positions specified in the charter and considering an ombudsperson or public advocate and writing in the Police Chief to the charter.  Each of these considerations will improve accountability.

William Bailey: Transparency to me means being able to see where your tax dollars are being spent. I think there is always room for better transparency.  

Patricia Washburn: Right now it's unwieldy and challenging to find out something as simple as the agenda for the next City Council meeting. I'd like to see a usability review of City web properties with a view toward better informing citizens (including those with disabilities).

Catherine Buxton: I think this desire for more transparency comes from voters feeling like municipal decisions already come to the table fully baked. Whether public comment is allowed or no, it can feel ceremonial rather than impactful. I do believe building more public and participatory processes, and involving more people in governance in various ways will help increase transparency. Likewise, there are lots of technical barriers to a more transparent government. It’s hard to look things up on the city website, it’s hard to know who to go to, and where to ask questions or get clarifications. The City has been doing an increasingly better job over the past few years (kudos!) communicating and sharing information, but there is always room for growth. This confusion or lack of understanding is magnified if you don’t English or have limited access to internet or other factors. I want to explore ways the Charter can  *

Steven DiMillo: I do not see transparency issues to be a concern with Portland city government.