Lawsuit Argues Charter Amendment Violates the First Amendment

Yarmouth – A new town ordinance that prohibits teachers, volunteer firefighters, and other people employed by the town of Yarmouth from serving on the town council is unconstitutional, according to a lawsuit filed today by the ACLU of Maine on behalf of several Yarmouth residents.

In November 2018, the Town of Yarmouth adopted an amendment to the town charter prohibiting town or school employees from campaigning for or serving on the Yarmouth Town Council. The restriction came after a group calling themselves “Yarmouth Citizens for Responsible Government” collected signatures to put the charter amendment to a public vote, following the election of a teacher to the town council.

The ACLU lawsuit argues that the new restriction violates the First Amendment right of school and town employees to run for and hold public office, and the right of town residents to vote for their preferred candidate.

Courts have consistently held that restrictions like the one adopted by Yarmouth must serve a substantial public interest, and Maine law even specifically anticipates that school teachers can and will serve as municipal officers. In August 2017, the town’s own legal counsel concluded that prohibiting town or school employees from serving on the town council could violate their First Amendment rights.   

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine on behalf of Yarmouth residents Meghan Casey, David Ray, Mark Reinsborough, Thomas Reinsborough, Elizabeth Reinsborough, and Kathryn Sharpless. It names the Town of Yarmouth as defendant.

The complaint can be found here: https://www.aclumaine.org/sites/default/files/casey_complaint_final.pdf

The following quotes can be attributed as noted:

Meghan Casey, Yarmouth High School teacher and current town councilor: “I care deeply about this town, and I have been honored to serve on the town council. If anything, I hope my experience as a teacher in Yarmouth Schools gives me a useful perspective on the needs of our town. This change will block me from serving again.”

David Ray, former Yarmouth School Committee member: “I just don’t think there was enough public dialogue about the charter amendment before it went to a vote. Voters didn’t have enough information about what this change would truly mean for the town in the long run.”

Mark Reinsborough, 17-year volunteer firefighter: “I’ve lived in Yarmouth my whole life. I love this town, and I try to always be committed to public service. But as a volunteer firefighter here for the last 17 years, this change will keep me from running for town council. To me, that just doesn’t make sense.”

Thomas Reinsborough, former town councilor and volunteer firefighter, 2004 recipient of the Latchstring Award: “I joined this lawsuit because I believe that overturning this charter amendment is the best thing for the town. This change disqualifies far too many people from serving on the council – people whose experiences and insight would be truly useful to have.”

Elizabeth Reinsborough, Harrison Middle School administrative assistant: “I’ve definitely thought about running for town council. But I work at the middle school, so this change would keep me from doing so. I would never want to have to choose between serving my community this way, or keeping my job.”

Kathryn Sharpless, OB-GYN and Yarmouth parent: “My husband and I chose to raise our family in Yarmouth because we love the character of this town. But this new charter amendment goes against that. We should be encouraging people to run for public office, not banning them from doing so.”

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