2016-03-03 / Letters

Commissioner expands on charter revision thoughts

To the editor:

At last week’s Charter Commission meeting in Biddeford I said I was for removing the fire and police commissions from the city charter. I want to explain the difference between abolishing or dissolving the commissions and removing them from the charter as I see it.

Leading up to last night’s meeting I spent hours on research, looking into more than a dozen city charters for cities similar to Biddeford. In all that research I did not find one charter that had any mention of a police or fire commission. The majority did not stipulate any difference between these departments and the others in the city. They all had wording that stated each and every city department head reported to and was the responsibility of the city manager or city administrator.

I also heard from many residents, whose opinions I trust. The overwhelming sentiment I received was that the residents no longer saw much of a value in the commissions as they currently exist. Some, however, also acknowledged they didn’t know much about the fire commission and only that they were disappointed in the fact the police commission had been failing to meet regularly and handle business.

The commissions, when operated properly, serve a good purpose for the residents of Biddeford. It is always good to have resident oversight for local government. There were members from both former and current commissions that expressed the importance of having a commission as a functioning body that helps residents communicate and monitor the departments. Commissioners should act almost as a liaison between city officials and citizens. It should be their responsibility to stay up to date on the ongoings of the department and remain familiar with those employed within the departments. The commissions can be a great asset to both the city and its residents if they operate under these guidelines.

There are multiple other commissions that exist while not being mentioned in the city charter. The point was made about how a group such as Solid Waste Commission functions well without any mention in the charter. This is where I believe the best course of action is to simply remove the commissions from the charter and have the chiefs both report to the city manager just like all other department heads. The commissions can continue to operate with approval of the mayor and council to serve at the best wishes of the residents in the manner I explained earlier.

Again, to reiterate, my stance is to remove the police and fire commissions from the charter. Have the chiefs report to the city manager. And if the city council and mayor so decides, allow the commissions to continue to operate in a capacity outside of the charter.

Thanks for reading and as always I welcome open and private discussion.

Dominic Deschambault, Ward 4 Biddeford Charter Commission

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