2016-12-15 / News

Formation begins for police, fire advisory committees

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Following a city vote on Election Day to eliminate the Police Commission and the Fire Commission, the Biddeford Policy Committee has recommended two ordinances to create Police and Fire Committees, as required by the new charter.

“What staff has done is drafted a suggested ordinance to deal with the creation of those advisory committees,” said City Manager Jim Bennett at the Monday, Dec. 12 policy committee meeting.

The recommended ordinance establishes both committees “under the authority of the Biddeford City Council” and to “serve under the directive of the city council.” Memberships on each committee are similar to their respective commissions. Under the ordinance, committee members are appointed by the mayor and must be confirmed by the council. However, members on the new committee will serve three-year terms instead of the five-year terms of the commission.

“It changes the hierarchy,” said Councilor Michael Swanton in a Sept. 2 public access broadcast. “(The commissions are) actually above or equal to the council and I really do believe that they need to be below the council, be appointed by the council, and answerable to the council.

“Right now they make their own rules. Looking for a chief, they make their own rules of who they’re going to hire as a chief. As an example, we had 15 months of an acting (fire) chief because the council wasn’t in favor of the way (the) commission was looking. It was a bit of a stalemate, and I think this would help us be able to convey our concerns to them, and have them listen.”

The membership itself, for each new committee as recommended, is five members, plus one member of each respective department serving as an ex-officio member. The suggested ordinance also included one alternate member who would serve in case of absence, but that language was removed as part of the policy committee’s recommendation.

The committees that would be created by the ordinance would mainly have the roles of making recommendations, taking input and making reports to the council. The police and fire commissions had power to hire their respective department chiefs and to set their compensation, but now that power would be with the city manager, to be guided by the recommendations and information of the committee.

According to Bennett, the charter change also clarifies that the final authority for budget approval for the police and fire departments is with the city council.

A second revision at the policy committee was suggested by committee Chairman and Ward 7 City Councilor Michael Ready. The suggested language establishing each committee would charge the committees to make recommendations on “substantive policy issues,” but the revision replaced that with simply “substantive issues.”

That revision was a mere preference of Ready, according to Bennett.

“I don’t think it makes any difference,” Bennett said.

The charter changes take effect Jan. 1. As the Courier reported in its Nov. 24 issue, the new committee ordinance is expected to be in place by the end of the year.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

Return to top