READFIELD — A dispute about the wording of a referendum question has been resolved in advance of a hearing about a referendum on whether to establish a town charter commission.

The hearing at 7 p.m. Monday at the Town Hall will give residents an opportunity to find out more about what a municipal charter is and how a charter commission would develop one for Readfield if voters approve. The referendum will be on the Town Meeting ballot on June 11.

Tom Dunham and a group of other residents circulated petitions last fall to put the question on the ballot.

Dunham said the town’s government should be more responsive to residents’ concerns, and not only would a charter commission provide opportunities for input, but the resulting charter could set up clear policies for interaction between residents and the government.

“If our town government works perfectly now, we wouldn’t need to change anything,” Dunham said. “But the commission would look at the big picture and see how we can improve things.”

If voters approve the charter commission, they will elect several commission members later, and town officials will appoint three others. The commission would have a year to write a charter and send it back to voters for approval.

When Readfield’s Board of Selectmen put the charter commission question on the Town Meeting warrant last month, they added a clause about appropriating $10,000 for the commission’s work and a recommendation of “ought not to pass.”

The petitioners objected, saying the new language was not what petition signers had supported and that the selectmen were trying to dissuade voters from establishing the commission.

They retained Stephen Langsdorf, who wrote a letter informing town officials that the selectmens’ actions violated Maine law and the petitioners’ First Amendment rights.

Langsdorf also cited his experience with a similar situation in his capacity as Augusta’s city attorney. In 2006, Langsdorf recommended that Augusta City Council add fiscal impact language to a citizens’ petition question about the sale of the former Cony High School. A judge sided with the petitioners and ordered that the original language be reinstated.

The selectmen reversed their decision Monday, so the question will appear without the appropriation or the recommendation.

Selectman Kathryn Mills Woodsum said town attorney Lee Bragg assured them the changes they had made were legal, but they weighed that against objections from residents.

Dunham said he expects the cost of the charter process to be closer to $2,000 than $10,000, and the town is obligated to provide only $100 and access to office space and town employees. Charter commissions in other municipalities sometimes raise private money to fund their work.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

 

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