Maine Supreme Court Unanimously Rules for Friends of Congress Square Park

Small Axe Truck Serving Meals at Congress Square Plaza

Small Axe Truck Serving Meals at Congress Square Plaza


By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,776)

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a unanimous decision today that is a resounding victory for the Friends of Congress Plaza in its effort to bring a citizens’ initiative to protect Portland’s Parks.  The Parks Initiative will now bed Question 1 on the Portland ballot on June 10 and the Friends and Protect Portland Park are encouraging a Yes vote, according to a press released earlier today by the Friends of Congress Square Park.

The Court ruled that the Parks Initiative (“PI”) was legislation and not in administrative in nature, stating that although no single factor has been universally accepted or found to control the outcome of a controversy, the City’s contention that the amendments are administrative is not persuasive when evaluated against any of them.  Moreover, the Court found that “(N)othing within the amendments proposed by Friends would seriously impede the day-to-day operations of the City, the City Council, or even the land bank commission.”

Said Frank Turek, a plaintiff in the case and President of the Friends:  “This landmark decision vaults us right toward the June 10 ballot, so let’s get on with it.  The City Council needs to step back and accept the will of its constituents instead of spending so much time and resources working against them.”

“Today is a great day for democracy in Portland,” said Sarah McDaniel, one of the Friends’ attorneys.  “The Court’s decision affirms the longstanding tradition of encouraging participatory democracy in Maine”

“It is also noteworthy that the Court did not even take seriously two of the City’s three arguments. In a simple footnote, the Court wrote that the City’s claims that the PI was an “Inappropriation” and was a people’s veto were unpersuasive.  “The city was trying anything and everything to stop the PI and we’re thrilled that the law court saw right through that,” said Robert H. Levin, one of the Friend’s attorneys.

The City responded to the news in a press release this afternoon saying in part:  “We’re glad that the Court has made a decision in advance of the election so that there is no uncertainty.  We’re pleased that  the people of Portland will now be able to make a clear choice about the future of Congress Square.”

The city’s press release went on to say:  “While we disagree with the Court’s decision we respect it and will comply with its terms.  Today’s decision is about an unsettled area of law in terms in terms of when citizen’s can propose a referendum.  The Court recognized that this was an area of law that had not been addressed to date in Maine and the decision now gives municipalities a precedent to follow and apply as necessary.

The City has a long history of supporting the right of citizen’s to petition their government and put forward various ordinances and plans to continue that tradition moving forward. The City of Portland has been incredibly proactive in terms of dedicating and protecting its park space for its citizens and visitors.  The city has substantial existing protections in place for its parks and the recent parks ordinance that the city adopted doubly ensures those protections.  Additionally, the city has made considerable efforts with regard to Congress Square including working collaboratively with the Friends of Congress Square throughout the legal proceedings.