2014-05-09 / Community

City strikes limits on service

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland City Council is looking for a few good men — and women, too, of course — to serve on various volunteer board and committees. And, pretty soon, where one lives won’t work as an excuse to not answer the call.

When they redrafted South Portland’s five voting wards at a March 3 meeting, city councilors decided the time was ripe to strike rules that require they nominate only people who live in their own districts when making appointments to groups such as the planning board, Conservation Commission and Energy and Recycling Committee.

That was partly because redrawing district lines to account for population shifts reflected in the 2010 census, in order to retain wards of roughly 5,000 people each put 19 current volunteers in different districts. For 13 of those people, at-large seats made for an easy solution — the council could simply re-appoint the person to a vacant at-large seat, or else swap that person’s district seat with a sitting at-large member. But for one election clerk and five volunteers, including two planning board members, there were no empty at-large seats available, and no at-large members living in the specific district needed to make a swap. For those six people stranded in new districts, each would have had six weeks to resign their positions.

Councilors were fretful about having to find six new volunteers, especially given the trouble they already have finding people willing to serve from within specific districts. The solution, they decided, was to simply make every appointment an at-large seat, opening up the pool to all city residents.

City staff went to work crafting the necessary ordinance and charter changes required to facilitate the change, resulting in a series of four votes at the May 5 council meeting, all unanimously approved by the council in first reading.

“This will give councilors the opportunity, which at-large councilors have long had, to reach into this community and pull the brightest and the best among those who are willing to serve,” said Councilor Linda Cohen.

Citing concern from constituents, Councilor Melissa Linscott pointed out that five of the seven city councilors would still need to reside in each of the five voting districts. All that is changing, she noted, is that councilors may now nominate residents from outside their districts to serve on municipal boards and committees.

Separate votes were conducted because removing residency restrictions on the Civil Service Commission and the Board of Assessment Review will require amendments to the city charter, while make the same change on the Board of Appeals triggers a planning board pubic hearing, scheduled for June 16.

All other boards and committees only need an ordinance change, with a final vote slated for Monday, May 19.

A public hearing on the proposed charter amendments is set for June 2. Those amendments would then go before voters on Nov. 4.

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