2016-07-07 / News

Charter commission recommends 20 changes

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The charter revision commission at its last meeting concluded voting on charter amendments to propose to voters in this year's general election. After reviewing the charter and then considering various proposals over a span of several meetings, the commission has supported more than 20 charter changes to be forwarded for voter approval.

Commission Chairman Paul Therrien, who represents Ward 2, said at the June 30 meeting that the next step will be to forward the amendments to City Solicitor Keith Jacques to confirm that they are not in conflict with any other state or federal laws.

Proposed amendments, if passed, could affect the mayor, city council, city manager, school committee, police and fire commissions and other areas of municipal organization.

One amendment proposes to prohibit the mayor from holding another elected city, county, state or federal office. Mayor Alan Casavant, from 2012 to 2104, served concurrently as Biddeford's mayor and as state representative for District 137, which covered parts of Biddeford and Kennebunk.

For changes to the city council, the commission proposes that the public should be allowed to address the city council at all city council meetings and that any city councilor may place an item on the city council agenda. The commission also proposes to define the city council as the municipal officers, which would remove the necessity of having a municipal officers meeting separate from city council meetings.

One amendment would allow the city council to waive the residency requirement of the city manager, and the school committee to do the same for the superintendent. Compensation for elected officials could also be increased – $150 per month for city councilors, $100 for school committee members and $175 for the council president.

School committee members could also be prohibited from being employed by the city or school department.

The commission is also proposing to eliminate the police and fire commissions, to instead be replaced by a police advisory committee and fire advisory committee.

Among other amendments, the commission proposes that a petition to recall a mayor, councilor or school committee member must be signed by 15 percent of registered voters who voted in the previous gubernatorial election, instead of the previous gubernatorial or presidential election.

Also proposed, the city would appropriate annually in its budget a reserve equal to one-tenth of the cost of a total citywide property valuation, and revaluate property every 10 years. The section of the charter addressing general meetings of residents is also being proposed for a change to allow the assembled body to select its own moderator.

Most of the amendment proposals had been approved at previous commission meetings, but at the June 30 meeting, the commission proposed an amendment that would allow for nominations for a vacancy on a committee, board or commission to be made by that body's chairman, as well as by the mayor.

Ward 1 Commissioner Vincent Keely, who proposed the change, said vacancies on boards have become political, with the mayor not nominating members preferred by a commission, over differences on entirely separate issues.

“This would take the politics out of it,” Keely said.

Commissioner at large Bruce Benway, who was appointed by Casavant, said, “Politics will always be in city government, it will just be applied in a different way.”

The proposal was approved by a 5-4 vote.

After concluding discussion on charter amendment proposals, Therrien said the next step for the commission will be to determine how the nearly 30 amendments will be presented to the voters on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Therrien said the amendments could be presented all together in the form of one question, lumped into a number of categories each to be voted on, or each voted on individually. Therrien said if the commission intends to get informational packets mailed as an insert along with the tax bill that is getting mailed in late July, then the commission needs to determine soon how to present the questions on the ballot. Therrien suggested meeting on July 7 instead of waiting until the scheduled July 14 meeting, to resolve the question. The commission agreed to meet July 7.

“I think if you do the questions in certain categories, that would probably be the fairest to voters,” said City Manager James Bennett. “You would be doing a good service to the voters so they could make up their own mind. Here's a summary of what these changes are, in simple English, so if someone reads it, they can understand what the intent is.”

The commission's next meeting will be Thursday, July 7 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers.

Return to top