WATERVILLE — City Councilor Erik Thomas said he has moved back to his ward, avoiding a City Council action that could have declared his seat vacant.

Meanwhile, some city councilors on Tuesday said they think the city’s ward system is outdated, while other councilors maintain the system works fine.

Thomas, who represents Ward 4, notified city councilors in an email March 1 that he had moved out of his ward temporarily but hoped to find a permanent home there by April 1.

On Monday, he said he moved temporarily back to 151 First Rangeway and still is seeking a permanent residence. He said he had moved out of the ward in February.

The City Council agenda for tonight initially included a request for councilors to declare a vacancy in the Ward 4 council seat. But City Clerk Patti Dubois said Thomas notified her that he was re-established in his ward, so the item was removed from the agenda.

The city charter is not explicit about exactly when a councilor no should longer be allowed to serve.

It does stipulate that a council office shall be deemed vacant under several situations, including when a councilor “re-establishes primary residency outside of the ward from which he is elected.”

Thomas said he still gets his mail in Ward 4 and his car is registered to an address there.

The City Council makes the ultimate decision on the status of a councilor, according to City Solicitor William A. Lee. The term “primary residence” is key, Lee said.

It is OK, for instance, if councilors stay at a seasonal camp in the summer as long as they maintain a primary residence in their city ward, according to Lee.

Meanwhile, some councilors on Monday said they believe the city’s ward system, in which councilors represent specific areas of the city they live in, should be changed.

Councilor Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, said she thinks it is appropriate for some councilors to represent specific areas of the city, but the city possibly should have some at-large councilors who represent the entire city.

“I would personally suggest Waterville look at some sort of hybrid system,” she said.

Mathias said she thinks if there were at-large council seats, more people, such as college students, might run for office. She added that now is the perfect time to reassess whether the ward system works for the city, as the city charter is being discussed.

Thomas said it’s time to change the ward system.

“I think the ward system is outdated,” he said. “I think it stifles competition and doesn’t produce the best City Council.”

However, Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, thinks the current ward system works just fine.

“I think the ward system has served the city well in the past, and it will continue to serve the city well in the future, she said.

Having at-large councilors would produce “elitist representation,” she said.

A councilor representing Upper Main Street, for instance, could determine what people living in poorer parts of the city need with an at-large system, she said.

Rancourt-Thomas, who represents the city’s South End, said a councilor representing Mayflower Hill, for instance, may not know the needs of people in the South End.

She said she does not know the needs of people on Mayflower Hill, although she would try to help residents there with an issue, if asked.

Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, said he has not thought about the issue at length, but likes the idea that each ward has representation in the current system.

“I just think we probably ought to stick to equal representation for each of the wards,” he said.

Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, agreed.

“I think it’s adequate and it probably is the most democratic system we could have,” Stubbert said of the ward system.

Meanwhile, Stubbert said he is fine with Thomas’ temporarily living at his current address on First Rangeway.

Councilor George Myers Jr., D-Ward 2, said he favors a charter revision that would allow the best candidates to serve as councilors, no matter what wards they live in.

“Having said that, I’d add that the South End always will need a champion, because it is a neighborhood like no other in the city and needs an influencer at the table,” Myers said. “I hope the Charter Commission can address these things when it convenes.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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