An Occasional Column About New Gloucester Governance
By Penny Hilton
September 20, 2018

They Didn’t Say Yes, They Didn’t Say No…

…The New Gloucester Select Boards’ latest action on the citizen request to begin a Town Charter process brings to mind the lyrics of that old (old!) Mills Brothers song: they didn’t say yes, and they didn’t say no. Instead they asked Town Manager Carrie Castonguay to contact the MMA (Maine Municipal Association) for clarification and advice regarding the process, and put discussion off till – possibly – their October 1 meeting.

Previously, On “NG- BOS”
The Town Charter idea was first brought up at the August 20 BOS meeting by New Gloucester resident John Salisbury, speaking, he said, on behalf of a group of citizens. About 70 towns and cities in Maine have created and adopted Charters, which spell out in greater detail, and to that community’s agreed preferences, the form, structure, and policies of a town’s government. The process, which takes about two years in total, must begin with a vote by the community on whether or not the voters want the town to establish a citizen Charter Commission to develop a draft Charter. Such a Commission, which would comprise both members appointed by the Board of Selectmen, and members elected by town-wide vote, would work, with public input, for the better part of a year to create the Charter that the voters would then vote to put in place or not. The easy way to get things going, he explained then, was to have the BOS put that initial question on a ballot. The harder way, should the BOS nix the idea, would be for the citizen group to gather signatures numbering 20% of the last gubernatorial vote, which would trigger a referendum vote.
At the August meeting, the BOS pushed the matter to the September 17 BOS meeting, in order (depending on who you asked) to allow Castonguay to further research the state statute that covers creation and change to Town Charters; or to give the BOS more time in a less crowded agenda to discuss it.

Timing Is Everything!
But on the 17th, the discussion didn’t get past the first question to Castonguay, having to do with timing. In her interpretation of the statute, in order for the question to be included in the ballot questions this November 6th, the BOS should have made their decision to do so sometime in June.

The text of Maine Statute on Home Rule, Title 30-A, Part 2, Chapter 111 §2102 that appears to cover this issue reads:
5. Election procedure. Within 30 days after the adoption of an order under subsection 1 or the receipt of a certificate or final determination of sufficiency under subsection 4, the municipal officers shall by order submit the question for the establishment of a charter commission to the voters at the next regular or special municipal election held at least 90 days after this order.

By The Book – If Someone Can Explain It
At this point, BOS Chair Steve Libby, noting that the BOS would likely be criticized about how they handle the matter in any case, opined that they should have more clarity about the timing issue before discussion. BOS Joe Davis, who had unsuccessfully tried to bring the matter up as a discussion item in August, made the required motion, but emphasized several times that the BOS should get to the actual discussion, with an up or down vote, in October.
“We need to put it on the next agenda for discussion, “he said, “and not drag this out…We should [be able to tell the citizens] ‘we agree to it so you don’t have to do the next step’, or ‘we don’t agree to it, so you better start collecting your signatures. ‘ ”

The final motion included that the matter will be on the next agenda in October if Castonguay has received answers from the MMA in time.
As the song says, “(they) didn’t say ‘stop’ and (they) didn’t say go…”
Maybe in October.

Notes (by the author)
on the Charter Process as Prescribed in State Law

• The initial question of whether or not to establish a Charter Commission can come before the voters in either of two ways: the Selectmen can choose to put the question to town vote, or a committee of townspeople can gather sufficient signatures to have it put out as a referendum vote.

• There are specific stipulations about time intervals, between signature gathering and a vote, between a vote and election of Commission members, and between the onset of the Commissions work and its final vote by the town. In all, it is a process of one to two years.

• There are stipulations as to how the Commission is to be formed. Only one member may be a municipal/town office holder. The governing board of the town (BOS) may appoint three members to the commission. The voters then elect six additional at-large members.

• The issues that can be covered in a Charter range from the four options for type of town government, which includes versions with and without a town meeting; and then everything from the rules governing the Board of Selectmen, to committees, to handling of finances, protocols and processes for hiring and removal of town managers, and more.