2016-08-11 / Front Page

Charter revision requests pared down

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The charter revision commission reduced the number of charter amendments they will propose on this year’s election ballot from 33 to 22 proposals, and decided to have voters vote on them individually instead of in bundles. At the Monday, Aug. 8 meeting, Chairman Paul Therrien, who represents Ward 2, said he, Vice Chairman Robert Provencher, of Ward 6, Secretary Raymond Tardif, of Ward 3, City Clerk Carmen Morris and City Solicitor Keith Jacques met on Aug. 4 to get guidance from Jacques on the amendment proposals the commission had supported.

Therrien said Jacques advised the group not to present the 30-plus changes on the ballot in the form of three bundled questions, or even one question.

“The rationale is,” said Therrien, “that this option is used if you’re practically throwing out the whole child.”

Therrien said some of the questions, such as changing the definition of the mayor from “chief magistrate” of the city to “chief executive officer,” could be done outside of a voter approved amendment if voters generally approve allowing corrections to be made in grammar, syntax and format.

“Keith thinks he can resolve this without going to a ballot question,” Therrien said. “It’s very likely we can throw this out.”

Therrien said Jacques recommended that a proposal that would require the council to establish procedures allowing councilors to place any item on the agenda be added with the words “within 30 days.”

The commission decided to combine two proposals asking for voter approval for compensation increases for councilors and school committee members into one proposal.

“I think it will fail, so we might as well put it into one question so they fail together,” said Commissioner at Large Bruce Benway, a former city manager who was ap- pointed to the commission by Mayor Alan Casavant.

Benway said that during a previous charter revision in 1998, voters approved increases for councilors but not for school board members.

The commission also approved combining three different proposals into one, that would require the city manager and school committee to submit 5-year capital improvement plans annually, along with their budgets.

“(Combining) is a very good idea,” said Provencher. “It’s all one subject, so it ought to be (combined).”

Therrien said he would seek Jacques’ counsel on whether it was acceptable to combine some questions that addressed the same specific issues.

The commission spent considerable discussion on the proposals to replace the fire and police commissions with citizen advisory boards, eventually voting to combine the two questions so that either both the police and fire commissions are replaced, or neither one is.

Therrien said he was concerned about there not being a backup plan, should the question fail.

“If this gets rejected, we come out of this with the same problem we have going into it,” he said. “We have a police and fire chief that answer to a commission instead of a city manager.”

Benway said he didn’t see much of a difference between what the commissions do and citizen advisory boards would do, except that the advisory boards wouldn’t handle the recruitment and recommendations for chief hirings the same way the commissions do.

Therrien said he would inquire of Jacques on whether there was a way to offer an alternative question as a backup plan should the question of replacing the fire and police commissions fails.

The commission also removed a proposal that would allow the city manager’s pro- posed budget to become the city budget if the city council does not approve a budget by the end of the fiscal year.

Therrien said Jacques said the proposal was “problematic” because statute already spells out that the city will use the previous year’s budget as the next budget if the council doesn’t approve a new budget.

The commission approved a recommendation from Jacques that a proposal to allow the council to transfer funds from one department to another by a 2/3 vote of the entire council instead be changed to approval by a vote of six councilors.

When discussing how to present the proposals to voters, Provencher said, “It’s pretty clear that the overwhelming number (of voters) want to vote on individual questions.”

Ward 4 Commissioner Dominic Deschambault agreed, saying people would not vote for proposals they supported if it required them to approve proposals they didn’t support within the same question.

Morris said the ballot would be 78 by 14 inches and she would work with the printers to see if there could be 11 questions on each page, or 10 on one and 12 on another.

“The first page is going to have a header with instruction,” Morris said. “I’ll work with the printer to make sure they’re not printing it too small.”

Morris said a minority of voters in the city, those that are part of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport & Wells Water District will also have another ballot asking them whether to discontinue adding fluoride to the water.

The commission decided to allow commission officers Therrien, Provencher and Tardif to preliminarily approve a final proposal of questions, after meeting with Jacques, to forward to the city council as part of the council’s Aug. 16 agenda, with the commission meeting on Monday, Aug. 15, to finally approve the entire list of proposals.

Morris said she was not sure if Jacques would be able to have the proposals reviewed by Thursday, Aug. 11 and the packets she sends out to councilors to prepare them for council meetings usually leave her office on Friday morning. Morris said the commission changes have to be reviewed by the council at its Aug. 16 meeting in order to meet statutory deadlines to have the proposals placed on the general election ballot.

Deschambault expressed concern that in a presidential election, with voter turnout expected to be high, voters may get overwhelmed by the number of questions on the ballot.

Throughout the meeting, commissioners kept referring back to what they indicated was an informal theme of the meeting, “trust the voters.”

The commission plans to meet on Monday, Aug. 15 to give final approval to the charter revision proposals.

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