2016-07-14 / Front Page

Charter commission bundles proposals

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The Charter Revision Commission has decided to bundle nearly 30 proposed revisions to the charter into six questions that will appear on the ballot, grouped by topic areas.

At the commission’s meeting on July 7, members discussed grouping the questions into categories – elected officials, city manager, school committee, public safety commissions, compensation for elected officials, and other proposals.

Commission Chairman Paul Therrien, representing Ward 2, said, “The attorney is going to put the verbiage in there in the form of a question, and it will be worded so that if you vote it down, every one of these bullet points in that section will be voted down.”

Commissioner-At-Large Bruce Benway, who was appointed by Mayor Alan Casavant said two revision proposals – to eliminate the fire and police commissions – should be grouped together as a public safety commission proposal, so they either pass or fail together. Unlike failed attempts in the past to eliminate the commissions completely, the proposal approved by this charter revision commission would assign the administrative oversight of the fire and police departments to the city manager, but keep both fire and police advisory committees in place.

“I would put the police and fire commission proposals in one,” Benway said. “It would be a tragedy if one passed and the other didn’t. Also, I would put the mayor and city council together … I would put questions involving elected officials as one question, except for the school committee.”

Benway expressed concern, however, about including the proposal to increase compensation for city councilors along with the other questions relating to elected officials.

“If the city councilors’ pay raise is over there (with other council proposals), that could be the loser to the question,” Benway said.

“If it’s voted on, should that be one question, just the salary?” asked Ward 6 Commissioner Robert Provencher. “We’re going to put elected officials’ compensation on its own.”

The commission is proposing that compensation be increased to $150 per month for city councilors, $100 for school committee members and $175 for the council president.

Benway justified having the compensation question as a standalone because “the president of the council is an add-on, it’s not just an increase.”

Benway said he didn’t necessarily support all the proposed revisions and in a moment of humor, Provencher responded, “You have to agree to (the revisions) now, it’s been adopted. Don’t be a sorehead.”

Provencher cited Roberts Rules of Order guidelines that members be supportive of final decisions even when they voted against them.

Commissioners discussed several of the questions that cross over into several categories, to determine which section they would more appropriately be included in, such as the proposal to allow the committee chairmen to nominate people for vacancies as well as the mayor, or even appoint members if the mayor fails to act within 30 days.

“You could talk about this one, where chairs can appoint committee members, but again, we’re talking more about committees and not so much about the mayor and city council,” Benway said.

Commissioners also discussed how to get information out to the public about the proposed revisions. Therrien said a onepage summary of the proposals would be included in the tax bills being sent later this month, and that the commission should also send a mailer to voters in the fall.

“Are you looking to explain some of these in short sentences, as far as why we’re proposing them?” asked Commissioner at large Daniel Boucher, who was also appointed by Casavant. “When you print this, some of these items, we may need to explain some items a little more.”

Benway said the most detailed information should be sent just prior to the Nov. 8 election.

“We want to give them the most information just before they vote,” he said. “If we get it to them now, they may not remember four months later exactly why the change was recommended.”

Therrien informed the commission that a report will be due to the city council at the nine-month mark from when the commission was formed.

“We will put out a preliminary report on what was our rationale for doing it,” Therrien said. “I don’t see that as very difficult to do because we already know what we did and why we did it.”

The commission also voted to propose another revision, requiring the superintendent to annually present the city manager with a five-year capital improvements plan, similar to a proposed revision approved at a previous meeting that requires the city manager to present the same plan to the city council. Provencher made a motion, approved by the commission, to retain City Solicitor Keith Jacques to review the charter proposals and give his legal opinion on whether the revisions are in accordance with statute.

“I hope the city solicitor will keep track of his billable hours so we can track expenditures,” Benway said, noting that in order to track the commission’s expenditures, Jacques’ hours should not be grouped in with his fees for other city business.

City Clerk Carmen Morris informed the commission that the revisions need to be reviewed by an attorney, finalized with the proper language and forwarded to the city council for approval by the end of August.

The commission also set a date for a public hearing on the proposals after a brief discussion on whether to hold the public hearing before or after the charter revision language is finalized.

“The reason it needs to be held when we’re not done is because if we hear something in a public hearing that is a good idea, and it’s done-done, we can’t go back and change it,” Benway said.

The commission set a public hearing for July 28 at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

Therrien said the commission did not need to schedule any other meetings at this point as it has completed its work to this point.

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