August 21, 2018
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Portland adopts new notice policy after apparent illegal meeting

Pious Ali's Facebook page | BDN
Pious Ali's Facebook page | BDN
A photo that Portland City Councilor Pious Ali posted on Facebook shows, from left to right, Mayor Ethan Strimling and Councilors Ali, Belinda Ray, Justin Costa, Spencer Thibodeau, Nicholas Mavodones and David Brenerman at Fort Gorges on Monday.
By Jake Bleiberg, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — The city has adopted a new policy of providing public notice any time three or more city councilors will be at a city-sponsored event, following a gathering of elected officials on a Casco Bay island that appeared to violate state law.

On Monday, at least seven City Council members visited Fort Gorges to view renovation work being done to the 19th century military installation. A councilor and city staff posted photos of the tour on social media, but the city didn’t give public notice before the gathering — an apparent violation of the state Freedom of Access Act.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin maintained Wednesday that there was nothing improper or illegal about the gathering and said the city had taken up the new policy to demonstrate its commitment to open government.

“I think we have a very strong track record of being very transparent and following FOAA rules,” said Grondin. “There was nothing malicious about it. We were not trying to make this secret in any way.”

A gathering of three or more City Council members is a public proceeding under Maine’s public record law, which requires that notice be given “in ample time to allow public attendance.”

Two independent lawyers said earlier this week that the gathering appeared to qualify as a public meeting and require notice under Maine law.

Grondin, however, contended that it did not because the councilors “did not transact any business or functions affecting citizens” and there are not applications regarding Fort Gorges pending before the council.

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