Government Spotlight

Before you vote: Learn more about town charters

| Joanne Cole |

A referendum question on New Gloucester’s fall ballot asks voters whether they wish to establish a charter commission to draft a proposed charter for the town.  Interested voters may find two public information sessions helpful for learning more about municipal charters and the charter process.   

The two sessions took place at the Meetinghouse last year, when a similar charter commission question was on the June ballot. Both addressed what a town charter is and what it might do, the pros and cons of charters, and the process involved, but from different perspectives.

Town charter informational meeting. At a charter informational session on June 5, James Katsiaficas, a practicing municipal lawyer and former senior staff attorney at the Maine Municipal Association, discussed the range of local government structures under Maine law and shared examples of how neighboring communities have used charters to customize the towns’ division of authority, budget processes, boards and committees, local elections, and more. 

In addition, Katsiaficas outlined the charter process, including how the nine-member commission is created, takes community input, and finalizes a charter for voters to consider, and how it may subsequently be amended.  He also discussed charter pros and cons and took residents’ questions.  The session was arranged by the board of selectmen and then-town manager Carrie Castonguay. Watch the charter informational session with James Katsiaficas here.

Attorney James Katsiaficas discusses municipal charters | screenshot from Town Charter Informational Meeting

Referendum forum on charters. The other session, a panel discussion on May 15, addressed charters from two perspectives: a town manager with experience in several communities, and the vice-chair of the charter commission that developed Poland’s charter.  Panelists Mitch Berkowitz, a veteran town manager, and Norm Beauparlant, a long-serving member of multiple committees in Poland, each spoke to the role a charter plays in town governance, its allocation of responsibilities, and the timeframe and steps for developing a charter. 

From his vantage point as a town manager, Berkowitz discussed differences in carrying out municipal business in charter and non-charter towns, while Beauparlant shared the changes he’s observed in Poland before and after charter.  The Meetinghouse audience asked questions.  The charter forum was moderated by Barbara Kaufman of the Maine League of Women Voters and organized by the New Gloucester Candidate/Referendum Issues Committee in partnership with the League.  Watch the charter forum here.

Mitch Berkowitz and Norm Beauparlant react to an audience member | Screenshot from Referendum Forum on Charters

The two sessions offer insights on town charters from different yet complementary perspectives.  Both are well worth your time as you consider your vote on whether to establish a charter commission.