The ACLU of Maine has filed a lawsuit to challenge Yarmouth, Maine’s ban on town employees running for office.
The lawsuit argues that the change violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine, said that the amendment, which bans municipal or school employees from being elected to Town Council, is counter to established precedent that protects the right of individuals “to campaign for public office, to serve in public office, and to vote for one’s preferred candidate.”
Town Councilor Meghan Casey, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said that a group calling itself Yarmouth Citizens for Responsible Government started a petition that requested an amendment to the Town Charter that would ban councilors from holding a paid town or School Department office or job at the same time.
During her campaign for the council, Casey was asked questions about whether a School Department employee could legally serve on the town’s governing board.
Before the vote that called for the change last fall, the ACLU of Maine sent a letter to Town Manager Nat Tupper stating that “prohibiting town and school employees from campaigning for and serving on the Yarmouth Town Council would violate (their) First Amendment rights.”
The letter stated that if Yarmouth approved the proposed amendment, “it may face litigation on behalf of public employees who wish to serve their community through elected office” and that “this litigation could prove extremely costly to the town.”
Plaintiff David Ray said that one of the biggest reasons he joined the lawsuit is “there (wasn’t) enough public dialogue … 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.”
The lawsuit asks for the court to rule the amendment unconstitutional and to enjoin the town from enforcing the prohibition on employees from serving on the Yarmouth Town Council.