Comments on charter draft focus on town meeting, select board, and who can serve

|In My Opinion, Connie Justice|

Dear Charter Commission Members,

Thank you for your important work on the draft charter.

I am concerned about several provisions which disregard public input gathered through the Charter Commission survey and fail to provide needed improvements to current town practices.

Town Meeting has been sparsely attended for years. Votes taken at Town Meeting are not representative of the community as a whole. The pandemic practice of allowing votes on the warrant at the ballot box was highly effective in increasing participation. That practice should be continued; this should also remove the need for the newly proposed complicating step of “validation” and additional vote at the ballot box on large issues.

Our Select Board spends much of their time discussing tasks and issues that our Town Manager and Town Staff are equipped to handle, and should be authorized to manage. The Select Board members should be able to dedicate their preparation time and meetings to addressing key issues, strategies and policies that are complex and critical to the town, not on rehashing the competent work of other boards, committees and our professional staff. The Town Manager should have authority that aligns with her responsibilities, and at a minimum the same authority as the state town manager enabling statute provides, rather than less authority, as the draft charter proposes.  Please review this section to identify responsibilities currently assigned to the Select Board that can be delegated to the Town Manager, freeing up the board from duplicating work already done by others.

The community expressed support for term limits; those proposed are insufficient. A one-year break after potentially nine years of service is largely symbolic.  Please strengthen the term limits in the charter.

Hybrid meetings are the norm for all of us in the private sector as well as for government entities. The charter should require that Select Board and committee meetings allow interactive remote participation.

Section 9.1.d
There is no justification for the requirement that only registered voters of New Gloucester can serve on boards and committees. Any New Gloucester resident must be allowed to serve. We need to encourage civic engagement and draw in volunteers from all our residents. If this restriction stands we will lose important input from valuable community members, including non-citizens and young people under the voting age.  Please change this to: 
“Eligibility.  Any New Gloucester resident may serve on a board or committee.”

Section 9.1.f.3
Immediate family members should not be permitted to serve on the same board or committee. The restriction to limit immediate family to a non-majority is not sufficient. We have many opportunities to serve the town that will allow highly engaged families to contribute without dominating a particular board or committee and exercising undue influence.

Thank you for your consideration of my concerns.

Best Regards,
Connie (Carolyn) Justice

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this opinion piece are solely those of the author. Publication does not reflect endorsement by the NGXchange or its volunteers. NGX welcomes diverse viewpoints and invites your submissions. Learn more here.