Charter Commission decides to remove history from draft charter, plans survey and public information sessions and discusses town manager role

|Debra Smith|

At its seventh regular meeting on October 11th, the New Gloucester Charter Commission heard from 25 citizens about their dismay at the racist discussion of town history at the Commission’s previous meeting, and decided to remove the history section from the draft without acknowledging why it was a problem. (Read their letter here.)

Penny Hilton noted that there is a complete history in the comprehensive plan which, “is the better version, according to most people.” The history in the NG Comprehensive Plan passed by voters last June includes a description of the occupation of Maine, and what is now the Town of New Gloucester, by Native Americans for 12,000 years prior to the arrival of white settlers in the mid-18th century. Don Libby said that in his review of charters, very few include a town history. Steve Libby, who had made the motion to remove the history section, warned that “if we change the history section to be different than the document that we have, we could lose votes.”

In other comments, Julie Fralich suggested a two-step process for passing budgets: a town meeting with a “straw poll,” followed by the select board finalizing the budget based on citizen input and approving it, or sending it for a referendum vote. This would be a middle ground,” noted Fralich, “allowing more conversation” and the decision-making authority for the town budget to be vested in either elected officials or all of the voters, rather than the few people who attend town meeting.

The Commission reviewed and adjusted a draft meeting schedule, agreed to request increasing Commission’s budget by $4,000, and approved contracting Jensen Baird as legal counsel. Chair Ben Tettlebaum will explore the possibility of the law firm agreeing to a fixed-rate contract.

Member Penny Hilton reported for the public engagement committee, proposed three public information sessions on three successive Wednesdays: October 20, November 3 and 17. One would be on Zoom, but it was unclear whether the town still has a Zoom account.  This will be confirmed and the information included in a mailer to every household about the Charter Commission’s work, and encouraging everyone to respond to the survey the Commission has put together. Another public engagement possibility is a trivia night at NU Brewery focused on town governance. The group hopes to have a table at the polls in November, the details to be determined.

The community survey was finalized at this meeting as well, after one edit suggested by Steve Hathorne, and will soon be available online for residents to give their input about town governance to inform the Commission’s work. [Note: The survey is now online.]

Linda Chase and John Salisbury shared their draft of the Town Manager Role and Responsibilities section for the charter. Commission members commented on a residency requirement, (isn’t that a contractual element?); the term “overseer of the poor,” which has been revised in state statute to “overseer,” and whether that is a responsibility of the manager or the select board. On several items, people suggested that they should refer to town policies, which led to a discussion of whether or not there are policies and if so, where they can be accessed. Linda Chase explained that there is not enough server space for all policies to be posted on the town website.

Discussion turned to a section that made a distinction between positions that are overseen by the town manager, and others overseen by the select board. Steve Libby explained that positions “directly affecting the people,” like the assessor, are under the select board.” Don Libby supported this, saying that “people want access to the board of selectmen” if they have an issue.  This led John Salisbury to comment that this is unusual among municipalities, and to ask, “do we want an executive officer administering the town, or the select board administering the town?”

The meeting wrapped up with a powerpoint presentation by Steve Libby on the “typical” budget process.

Watch the meeting video here.

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