NG Rx: An Occasional Column About New Gloucester Governance

THEY SAID YES, BUT…

So on October 15 the New Gloucester BOS voted to send the question of whether or not the town wants to start the process of creating a Town Charter to the voters.

ARE YE FOR OR AGIN?

One thing everyone agreed on at the meeting was that there will have to be a lot of education done on what a town Charter is before New Gloucester voters decide next June whether to start the process.

Peter Bragdon, one of the town residents who asked the BOS to put the question to the people rather than require the original interested group to collect 600+ signatures to force the issue, explained that he himself had been against a town charter for years – till learning more about what that meant. “I had incorrect information,” he told the BOS. “Now I am for a charter.”

BOS Chair, Steve Libby, who joined the other selectmen in an unanimous vote to take it directly to the voters, made clear he hopes the voters say No. “The voters deserve a say,” he acknowledged, after also saying he has always been against a town charter and a town council form of government.

MAKING THAT POINT ABOUT EDUCATION

And that comment, implying that accepting a Charter would require changing to a “town council form of government” was itself a good demonstration of the need for education on the matter. No change is required.

According to the detailed information about town charters in Maine on the Maine Municipal Associations website, five forms of government are allowable to a town organizing itself under a Charter:
1 – Town Meeting-Selectmen form of government
2 – Town Meeting-Selectmen- Manager (now New Gloucester’s form)
3 – Council-Town Meeting-Manager
4 – Council-Manager
5 – Council-Mayor-Administrator

LET THE EDUCATION BEGIN – The Process

The process starts with the voters approving creation of a Charter Commission, which will now be decided in June by regular secret ballot at the polls. After that the Commission will be created, made of 3 members appointed by the Board of Selectmen, and another 6 members elected by popular vote. Only 1 Commission member may hold a formal position in the town.

This 9-person Commission will then work according to the regulations of Maine’s Home Rule Statute, in public, discussing all aspects of town governance and reviewing Charters created by other towns they consider good comparisons. Over a period of months the Commission will construct their own recommendation for New Gloucester, with periodic reports and public meetings. Eventually the final product will be made available for public scrutiny and put to another yes/no vote of all the voters, by secret ballot at the polls. No votes pertaining to a Town Charter are made at a Town Meeting.

WHO’S IN CHARGE?

The educational effort is likely to take place on several fronts. The original group of citizens who initiated the idea, described by Bragdon as “totally non-partisan and diverse” will be reaching out in a variety of ways to “any and everyone” interested in learning more: “Nobody will be turned away.” Contact person for this effort is John Salisbury.

In addition, this seems a proper subject for the town’s Candidate and Referendum Committee to address in some manner. This Committee recently produced a live forum with candidates for Maine House and Senate Misty Coolidge, Amy Arata, Ned Claxton, and Ellie Espling, to very warm reviews from all involved, and will meet again in March.

TIME TO START GOING TO THE SOURCE FOR INFORMATION

In the meantime, voters may go directly to Maine Statute governing this legal option http://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/30-A/title30-Ach111sec0.html , and also to the more readable information made available by the Maine Municipal Association https://www.memun.org/Training-Resources/Local-Government/Ordinances-Home-Rule.

(Disclaimer: The author of NG Rx is a member of the Candidates and Referendum Committee and also one of the group of citizens who initiated this effort. However, this was written only in an effort to keep information clear for New Gloucester voters, and all information is verifiable by video or sources cited. Future involvement by the author will always be appropriate to each role.)

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