Questions and Answers on a New Gloucester Charter (first in a series)

This is first in a series of articles by John Salisbury.

The New Gloucester municipal elections will be held on Tuesday, June 11, 2019.  In addition to voting on candidates for the Board of Selectmen and the MSAD #15 school board seats voters will be voting on the question:  Shall a Charter Commission be established for the purpose of creating a New Municipal Charter?

To help inform New Gloucester voters about municipal charters I am preparing a series of short articles about municipal charters. Perhaps the easiest means for helping New Gloucester residents understand the basics of a establishing and creating a municipal charter is through a question and answer format.

Q: Under what authority are Maine towns and cities given the right to adopt a municipal charter?

A: In 1969, the voters of Maine approved an amendment to the Maine Constitution that authorized the State Legislature to provide a procedure by which municipalities could adopt and amend municipal charters.

The specific provision is Article VIII part 2 section 1 and reads as follows: The inhabitants of any municipality shall have the power to alter and amend their charters on all matters, not prohibited by Constitution or general law, which are local and municipal.

Q: Why was a constitutional home rule amendment needed?

A: Prior to the adoption of home rule the legislature could adopt specific legislation related to just one town or city.  The legislation might or might not have been in the best interest of the municipality.

For example legislation that determined the number of firefighters in a specific municipality or the purchase of new firefighter uniforms were a means by which a state legislator could exercise control over what would otherwise have been a municipal matter.

Q: Does New Gloucester currently have a charter?

A: No, it does not have a town charter which establishes its form of government and procedures.
Because New Gloucester does not have a charter it depends upon state general laws for its governing authority.  This effectively limits its options in regard to town structure and procedures.

Technically every municipality has a charter that details its boundaries.  In the instance of New Gloucester, it was incorporated in 1774 when the Town was part of Massachusetts.  That charter only spelled out the boundaries of New Gloucester.

Q: Who made the decision to ask New Gloucester residents whether they want to establish a charter commission?

The New Gloucester Board of Selectmen made the decision at its October 15, 2018 meeting, at the request of a group of citizens.  The vote of the Board of Selectman was unanimous (5-0).  This vote places the following question on the Tuesday, June 11, 2019 ballot: Shall a Charter Commission be established for the purpose of Creating a New Municipal Charter?

The next question and answer article in this series will focus on what will be the process and timeline for drafting a charter if the voters approve creation of a Charter Commission.

Don’t forget to attend the St. Patrick Day Breakfast on Sunday, March 17th 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Eagles, 341 Sabbathday Road, New Gloucester.

If you have questions regarding this article or others in this series please e-mail me jsalisbury@comcast.net.

John Salisbury of New Gloucester has a graduate degree in municipal management. He served as an elected municipal official in Hallowell, was the Executive Director of the Maine Municipal Association  for thirteen years, and was one of the authors of Maine’s constitutional “home rule” amendment.

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