City Denies Congress Sq. Petition Filed by Opponents of Its Sale to RockBridge

Frank Turek and Attorney Robert H. Levin on a Previous Occasion

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,525)

Early this afternoon Portland’s Corporation Counsel announced that it had ruled against the legality of a petition submitted a week ago by the Friends of Congress Square.  Following a seven-day review period of the proposal, as mandated in the City Charter, the city’s Corporation Counsel has determined that the Friends cannot invoke the citizen initiative process as the proposed amendment conflicts with Maine law and City Code.

Portland City Code specifically states that citizen initiatives can only apply to legislative matters and cannot affect administrative matters including city appropriations, which has been defined in some context to include the sale of city-owned property according to the press release issued by the city.  The press release goes on to point out that the City Charter clearly places all decisions regarding “fiscal, prudential and municipal affairs of the City of Portland’ exclusively in the hands of the City Council and the City Council alone has the decision-making authority regarding the sale of City Property.  The citizen initiative process cannot be used with respect to the proposed sale of Congress Square.

However, Robert H. Levin attorney for the Friends group, said over the telephone he disagrees with the city’s interpretation about legislation,  administrative and appropriations authority.  “We have a stronger legal argument.  We have a stronger policy,” said Levin.  The Friends will meet Sunday evening to consider its options – that includes a possible lawsuit according to Levin.

The petition submitted last Friday by the Friends of Congress Square Plaza would have initiated legislation to put to a city-wide vote an amendment to the City Code that would:  place thirty-five properties including Congress Square Park in the Land Bank; expand the goals of the Land Bank to create a new category of Land Bank property called “urban open public spaces;” and mandate that the sale or lease of any of these properties would require approval of the Land Bank Commission, a super majority of eight votes of the City Council or six votes accompanied by a city-wide vote.  It would be retroactive to any Council vote in favor of the sale – thus “staying” the Council’s positive vote.

At the request of the Friends of Congress Square Plaza, attorney Levin, Ian Jacobs and others met with city’s corporation counsel, councilor Ed Suslovic and Mayor Michael Brennan to discuss the future of the Plaza at city hall this morning.  Following the meeting which lasted l l/2 hours, Jacobs said it was a good meeting with lots of give and take in a sometmes “warm” environment. The disposition of the pending petition was not discussed. Everyone had an opportunity to voice their opinion and be heard and that’s why the meeting took so long Jacobs said. Friends president, Frank Turek did not attend the meeting due to a bout with the flue.

The Portland Parks Commission, chaired by Diane Davison, is on record as opposing the sale of the Plaza to RockBridge.  At its monthly meeting yesterday, Davison urged Commission members to lobby city councilors against the sale of the Plaza.  She also urged them to lobby in favor of the Citizens Initiative petition. But members, led by Eastern Promenade resident Jamie Parker, and Portland Trails employee,  would not go that far. Rather, Parker recommended researching the history  and meeting with Turek and attorney Levin before they decide whether or not to support the Citizens Initiaitive petition.  Perhaps the Commission will take a position next month after they’ve had more time to research it, particularly with the Land Bank Commission members itself. Davison is the controversial executive director of the Friends of the Eastern Promenade and reportedly supports  the Citizens Initiative.

The City Council is expected to vote on the proposed contract to sell the Plaza to RockBridge on Monday, September 16th after being delayed from a vote last week.  The delay was initiated by Councilwoman Cheryl Leeman who said she wanted more information.  At that meeeting last week, attorney Levin cautioned the Council that a premature vote could result in the resolution of the matter in the court system.

note:  The very top photo is of Ian Jacob following the meeting at city hall today.

For more background information, please see Post # 1,522 dated 9/10/13.