2016-08-18 / Front Page

OOB residents may consider charter changes

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Voters in Old Orchard Beach may have four changes to the charter to consider on the Nov. 8 ballot. As of the Courier’s deadline, the town council was scheduled to have a public hearing and vote at its Tuesday, Aug. 6 meeting on whether to send the proposed changes to voters for approval.

Assistant Town Manager V. Louise Reid said the changes were suggestions made by town councilors over the past year.

One charter proposal, if approved, would remove a requirement that the town sell property through sealed competitive bids and allow the town to auction property or use a brokerage firm.

“We have strict rules in the charter and it’s being expanded so there are more options for the council on how they go out to bid,” Reid said.

Another change would undo a charter change that was approved in 2011 – the establishment of term limits for councilors. A charter provision limiting town councilors to no more than seven consecutive years on the council was approved by voters in 2011 by a vote of 2,144 to 979.

“Many former town councilors felt term limits weren’t necessary,” Reid said. “It’s hard enough to get a good person to run for office.”

A stipulation in the charter that disallows a relative of a councilor from receiving any increases in compensation would also be removed. Instead, the charter would be worded so that the councilor would recuse himself or herself and not vote on the salary increase.

Reid said one cost-saving change would remove the requirement that the council’s entire meeting agenda be published in a local newspaper.

“I think the citizens, when they find out we’re spending $800 to $1,000 for one meeting, they’re going to ask why we need to spend that money,” Reid said. “It’s a lot of money to spend when you can get (the agenda) online.”

Town Clerk Kim McLaughlin said the town council can propose the charter amendments without calling for a charter revision commission to be elected, because there are only a few minor changes being proposed.

“If they were going to be amending the whole charter, they would set up a charter commission under state law,” McLaughlin said.

In 2014, the charter section regarding conflict of interest was amended to allow relatives of councilors to at least receive salary increases commensurate to compensation increases received by other non-union employees or town employees under a collective bargaining agreement. That amendment was approved by voters 2,980 to 522.

McLaughlin said she drafted the initial language of the charter proposals after hearing from the councilors about what they were hoping to change. She then sent the changes to Town Attorney Philip Saucier, who confirmed that the wording and changes were legally sound.

Once charter amendment proposals are approved by the council, McLaughlin said ballots will be printed and voters will be able to weigh in on the four proposals in the November general election.

McLaughlin said the November election is the only time the town can hold a vote on charter changes because otherwise it would not likely get the required percentage of voters to put charter changes in effect, even if a majority of voters approved them. State law requires that 30 percent of the number of voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election must turnout to vote for the charter changes.

“That’s why you wouldn’t hold it in June because you would never get enough people to vote,” McLaughlin said. “Even if everybody voted yes, you wouldn’t have (the changes) because not enough people voted.”

McLaughlin said 4,331 residents voted in the gubernatorial election in 2014, and order for charter changes to be approved this year, a minimum of 1,299 people must turn out to vote.

With the presidential election happening this year, McLaughlin said voter turnout will be high.

“This presidential election could be 10 times as crazy,” she said.

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