Where I stand on the charter

|John Salisbury|

Several people have asked me my views on the preliminary charter proposal scheduled for public hearing on May 9th. My first comment is that I am supportive of New Gloucester adopting a charter…” A town charter is better than no town charter, regardless of its content.” 

“Let fools contest that which governs best” is a fitting description of the work of most municipal charter commissions.  New Gloucester no exception to that theorem.  Unfortunately, covid and the failure of the Town to conduct Commission meetings that permitted two-way citizen participation has resulted in limited citizen involvement during the process. The decision to conduct a citizen survey was somewhat of a saving grace.

In short, the preliminary charter in most respects canonizes current town governance practices. It is disappointing, however, that several of the Charter Commission decisions are not reflective of the views of the 373 NG citizens who completed the Commission survey. (That number is approximately 3 times the number of registered voters who attended the annual town meeting last Monday night.) 

Here are a couple of significant examples of where the Commission members did not respond to the preferences of the residents that completed the survey.

  • A majority of survey respondents (51%) wanted a 7-member Select Board while 42% wanted 5. The preliminary draft has a 5 member Board.
  • 64% of the respondents also wanted a minimum attendance requirement at town meeting.

When I was elected to the Charter Commission in June 2020, I had anticipated that Commission meetings would be conducted using Zoom with an interactive format. Had that held true I would not have resigned.  Even so, I would have held minority positions on many of the provisions in preliminary charter proposal. Among some of the policies I supported on the Commission were:

  • A 7-member select board
  • A minimum attendance of 3% of registered voters at town meeting. 
  • If there was a lack of quorum at the town meeting, the Select Board have the authority to adopt the budget and ordinances subject to a 60-day period in which 3% of the voters could petition to have the budget or ordinance voted upon by referendum.
  • Strengthening and not reducing the town manager responsibilities, the NG CEO. The preliminary charter draft is more restrictive than the state town manager enabling statute.  Limiting the role of a professional town manager basically means there will be a continuation of the select board’s micro-managing practices. It is my opinion that we do not need 6 town managers.  
  • Requiring Select Board and committee meetings to be interactive (zoom or similar technology) to afford increase opportunity for citizen participation.

I applaud the time commitment the Charter Commissioners have made to preparing a draft charter.  However, my experience with and observation of Maine municipal governments suggests that there are numerous ways New Gloucester can operate more effectively while encouraging more citizen participation.  

Time will test the workability of the proposed charter.  There will be future opportunities for the Town to adapt its governance through future charter revisions. In the interim, I will be supportive of the proposed charter and look forward to future revisions of our town constitution. 

John Salisbury, 417B Sabbathday Road  

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