New Gloucester Citizens for a Town Charter



February 8, 2019

Contact: Steve Hathorne


New Gloucester Citizens for a Town Charter

New Gloucester residents met recently to create a citizens’ action committee, New Gloucester Citizens for Town Charter to promote the creation of a Charter Commission, a question which will be put to a town-wide vote on June 11 this year. 

By Maine law, towns may create a voter-approved Charter to set the form, protocols and policies and guide municipal government beyond the basic rules laid out in state law. More than 70 towns in Maine, including Gray, North Yarmouth, Falmouth, Bridgton, and Cumberland have done this.

According to the Maine Home Rule statute, a town must begin the process of proposing a custom-created town charter by first letting the voters say yea or nay to creating a charter commission to do the work.

This first step can be accomplished in two ways. The first, citizen referendum, requires motivated citizens to collect a large number of voter signatures on a specifically worded petition and present that petition to the town for inclusion on the next town-wide ballot election. This method is time-and-energy intensive, but results in many voters having conversations about the reasons for and benefits of a Charter. New Gloucester citizens have run citizen petitions twice in recent years, once to create a recall ordinance, and once to create term limits, and both efforts were passed by voters.

The second way is for the Board of Selectmen to place the question before the voters themselves. While much easier for proponents, this method eliminates all the preliminary conversations that familiarize voters with the issues.

In October of last year, the Board of Selectmen responded to a request from citizens who said they were prepared to do a citizens petition once again by agreeing to approve putting it out to vote. While the BOS vote was unanimous, two selectmen voiced clear opposition to the idea of a charter and said they hoped the measure was defeated.

Since then, no information on the charter question has been disseminated by the town, and most people profess to know nothing at all about the coming vote, or what a charter is or does.

New Gloucester Citizens for a Town Charter plans to fill this gap with a series of informational meetings, fund-raising events, and at least one town-wide mailing to make sure voters understand why a charter is a good step for the town to take.

At their recent meeting, the group elected Steve Hathorne, Chair, John Salisbury, Treasurer, and Penny Hilton, Secretary. The group currently includes people who have served the town in elected, appointed, and hired positions, as well as closely observed town government for many years. Salisbury actually wrote the original Maine legislation concerning Home Rule, under which town charters fall. Another member, Scott Seaver, shepherded a neighboring community through the charter process as town manager.

Any New Gloucester voter interested in having the town consider establishing a town charter so that the town is governed consistently according to approved and verifiable rules and protocols is welcomed to join. The next and all subsequent meetings of this group will be advertised in advance and open to the public.

For information call Chairman Steve Hathorne at 210-5423.

See the Maine Municipal Association online for information about the Home Rule and Charter Process and a list of Maine Towns Governed by Charters.