Reasons and Timeline for a Town Charter

Third in a series of articles about town charters by John Salisbury

Why should the Town of New Gloucester approve a Charter Commission to draft a town charter?

The most compelling reason is “local control.”  Many have probably heard this term bantered about.  Local control is to a great extent a mirage for towns that have not adopted a municipal charter.  This is because towns that do not have a charter only have limited options provided by the state statutes for determining their town governing and management structure. 

If New Gloucester votes to form a charter commission to develop a municipal charter, the voters will be in control of the structure and procedures of the town.  They will be able to determine the structure of the town government and not be limited by the options provided in state statutes.  For example, the town could determine in the charter to have the Board of Selectmen chairperson elected by the voters instead of by the selectmen.

Another strong reason for adopting a town charter is citizen understanding of their municipal government should be improved. Having the “constitution” of local government packaged in one place charter avoids the reference to the State of Maine Title 30 statutes.  These are neither readily accessible nor understandable to most citizens.

While the author of this article is reasonably familiar with the statutes relating to municipalities, I was surprised when I asked the town office for a copy of the vote of when the town voted and determined the size of the board of selectmen, the length of their terms and to adopt the town manager form of government. That information was not readily available.

What is the step-by-step process for creating a Charter Commission?

• Citizens vote on the creation of a Charter Commission (June 2019).

• If passed, three members of a nine-member Charter Commission are to be appointed by the Board of Selectmen.

• At the next scheduled regular or special municipal election, voters will elect 6 members of the Charter Commission (November 2019).

• The town clerk is to notify the elected and appointed members of the Charter Commission of the time and place of the organizational meeting.  The notice shall be at least 7 days prior to the meeting.

What is the timeline for the Charter Commission’s work?

• Within 30 days of the organizational meeting the Charter Commission must hold an information public meeting to receive information, comments, views and other material related to its function.

• Nine months after election the Charter Commission is to prepare a preliminary report including the text of the charter it intends to submit to the voters (August 2020).

• The Charter Commission shall submit its final report to the Board of Selectmen (November 2020). The Commission’s work is complete and the group is disbanded.

• The municipal officers shall order the proposed new Town Charter to be submitted to the voters at the next regular or special election held at least 35 days after the final report is filed.

Then what?
• The voters approve or disapprove the Town Charter.

Written by John Salisbury, New Gloucester resident and former executive director of the Maine Municipal Association.