2016-08-04 / News

Residents don’t like grouped charter questions

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The Charter Revision Commission heard from about a dozen residents last week at a public hearing on the draft proposal it may propose for voter approval on the November ballot. Of the input provided at the July 28 meeting, the groupings of more than 30 substantive proposed amendments of the charter into just six questions garnered the greatest commentary.

Ward 6 Commissioner and Vice Chairman Robert Provencher encouraged voters to look past the few differences they might have within a grouping.

“We encourage you to go through the groupings. If there are one or two items that you don’t like, but you can live with it, we encourage you to vote in the positive,” he said.

Ward 1 City Councilor Michael Swanton spoke during public comment, saying, “All of this is a waste of ink because people would vote down at least one thing. It’s doomed to fail, asking that many questions that are unrelated to one another (in the form of one question).”

Swanton said it was hard for him to understand what was being asked without the actual wording of the questions being presented. Commission Chairman Paul Therrien said the wording won’t be determined until City Solicitor Keith Jacques had a chance to review the amendments.

“I think there is confusion in what is being asked in different ways. I agree with (Ward 6) Councilor (Rick) Laverriere that if we could do each one, then at least some could be passed. I think it would be more likely that you would get more of what you want,” said resident David Flood.

Susan Swanton also commended Laverriere for speaking out against the grouping of questions.

“I have to admit, I certainly appreciate Councilor Laverriere’s passionate plea or demand that each question be provided separately. There are plenty of things that can be voted down.”

“I do feel a little lost because there is no rationale presented for the changes and I know there is a rationale, otherwise, you would not have recommended changes,” she added. “I am fearful that not many of us will have had an opportunity to do that before they vote.”

Susan Swanton also said she didn’t like a question regarding the city manager’s proposed budget to be adopted if the city council did not approve a budget by June 30.

Police Commission Chairman Ralph Croteau took issue with the proposal to replace the police and fire commissions with citizen advisory boards.

“As far as the operation of both the fire and police departments, during deliberations, there was a lot of suggestions that they’re civilians, they don’t know what they’re doing,” Croteau said. “I think this city is blessed to have the type of firefighters, equipment and police officers that we have. That’s because commissioners have worked their rumps off to get the people and manpower to get the people to work for the city of Biddeford.”

Former city councilor Richard Rhames said he believed the city councilors’ pay was “abysmally low” and the disparity between the mayor’s and councilors’ pay was too great.

“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.

“I know cutting ribbons can be a very tiring job. Rhames said, “but apparently the council are somewhat more despised than our chief magistrate.”

Rhames said he also believed the city council moved forward to ask resident to approve forming a charter revision commission in order to eliminate the fire and police commissions.

“They want to go to a public safety commission,” Rhames said. “They think there is real money involved in combining with other towns. They have proven that. They have saved $20,000 sharing an assessor (with Saco). It’s a yellow hole in the snow. It’s nothing. If there’s a way to save a cent, then it must be done. The council wanted you to get rid of the fire and police commissions … It’s an insult to the people who have labored to try and do good work in these areas for decades.”

Charter Revision Commissioner at Large Bruce Benway said the commission will not make a final decision on the questions and wordings until after the public hearing and after Jacques provides guidance on what the commission has drafted thus far. Once the commission receives Jacques’ analysis, Therrien will schedule another meeting to finalize the presentation of questions for the ballot. Therrien said he was hopeful that the meeting could be scheduled within the next several weeks.

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