Deadline mix-up could kill stabilized rent supporters' citizens initiative

Rent cost initiative mistake

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER)-- After being given a specific deadline to hand in their signatures petitioning for stabilized rent and zoning questions to appear on the November 7th ballot, activist groups Fair Rent Portland and Give Neighborhoods A Voice are told by the Portland City Clerk's office there isn't enough time to consider their citizens initiatives after all. 

The two groups spent five weeks collecting 2,500 petition signatures to support changes in the ever increasing rental prices and zoning issues in Maine's biggest city. However, after handing them in to the City Clerk's office on Monday, August 7th, city officials said there isn't enough time to schedule and hold a public hearing on the issues. The City sent out this statement late Monday afternoon: 

"Upon further review of the City's ordinance, it was determined today that the two potential citizen initiative referendum questions will not be eligible for the November 7th election given that they do not meet the ordinance's requirements. Specifically, the City Council must do the following before these questions can be properly submitted to the voters: (1) set a public hearing date on each initiative at its next regularly scheduled meeting after the petition signatures have been validated by the City Clerk; (2) give 10 days notice of that scheduled hearing; (3) hold that hearing and submit the initiative to the voters at least 90 days before the next regularly scheduled election."

Fair Rent Portland responded late Monday night by releasing a statement of their own. 

"We at Fair Rent Portland are surprised, disappointed, and shocked to learn of the erroneous instructions provided to us by the City Clerk’s office. From the start of the campaign our organization was in close communication with the City Clerk, who on multiple occasions confirmed that if at least 1,500 valid signatures were submitted by August 7, the referendum would be reviewed by the council in early September and be included the November 7 ballot.

Portland’s citizens trust our public officials to provide accurate information about the requirements of civic engagement. To negate an important civic initiative -- the result of scores of volunteers, hundreds of hours of donated time, and thousands of engaged citizens -- on the basis of an admitted clerical error runs counter to the spirit of the democratic process. Fair Rent Portland calls on our publicly elected councilors to rectify this error, avoid an unnecessary and costly special election, and restore confidence in our municipal government by allowing the citizens of Portland to make their voice heard in November.

To that end, Fair Rent Portland and their attorneys are determined to work with the Corporate Counsel and city officials to ensure the referendum is on the ballot. Our initiative has resonated throughout Portland's communities, galvanizing support from renters, landlords, and businesses alike; all of whom share our vision for housing security, sustainable growth, and reasonable checks on the steep cost escalations in Portland’s rental properties."

Portland City Director of Communications, Jessica Grondin, told NEWS CENTER on Tuesday that this was an error on the city's part and they are working toward a solution; one way would be to somehow work around the stipulation to get the initiatives on the ballot, another would be to hold a special election. Neither party wants that special election for reasons including additional public notice and cost to hold it.

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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