November 29, 2012

Waterville city political partisanship, ward system likely charter commission targets

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- Eliminating party politics from City Council and school board races is a likely issue the newly elected Charter Commission probably will discuss, according to City Solicitor William Lee.

"I'm pretty confident that there will be some members of the public that will suggest that to the commission," Lee said Thursday.

Another topic commissioners may consider is elimination of the ward system of representation, he said.

Lee will address the commission at its first meeting Dec. 12, when members are scheduled to elect a chairman, vice chairman and secretary, set a date for a meeting at which the public may comment and receive instruction from Lee on how to proceed.

City Clerk Patti Dubois also will administer the oath of office to members.

The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the City Council chambers at The Center.

The 10-member commission includes seven members elected Nov. 6 and three appointed by the City Council. They will be charged with determining if any changes should be made to the current charter to help improve the way the city operates.

Voters Nov. 6 also agreed to establish the commission, an issue they decide every seven years.

A charter is like a local constitution that governs the city. Lee said the new commission may determine that no changes are necessary and recommend no changes.

"They're not obligated to re-write the document," he said.

Voters have the final say on any proposed changes.

The city's first charter was adopted in the 1970s. The most recent revisions were made in 2005 and included weakening the mayor's position and having a city manager instead of a city administrator.

The city's last commission considered proposing changes to partisan elections and the ward system of representation but ultimately did not make a recommendation on those matters. Lee said the mayor's powers, including veto power, also may be a topic for discussion.

"I've heard people taking about that," he said.

In 1969, Maine voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution allowing cities to adopt local charters. The action became known as home rule. Before that, Maine towns and cities were required to go to the Legislature for approval of most proposed changes relating to governing locally. A charter may cover any governance not denied by state law, or already covered by state or federal law.

Lee said that by state law, the charter commission has nine months to issue a preliminary report and 12 months to issue a final report to the City Council. The council has authority to extend that deadline if feels more time is needed.

Those elected to the commission Nov. 6 were Bernard Huebner, Ward 1; Edward Lachowicz, Ward 2; Rosemary Winslow, a city councilor who represents Ward 3; Alicia Barnes, a Planning Board member representing Ward 4; former City Councilor and Board of Education member Donald N. Dufour, Ward 5; Peter Madigan, Ward 6; and Jacqueline Dupont, also a Planning Board member, Ward 7.

The City Council appointed former Charter Commission member Peter Lyford, former City Councilor Roland Hallee and Cathy Taylor, a member of the Police Station Study Committee.

Amy Calder -- 861-9247
acalder@centralmaine.com

 

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