The Hallowell Charter Commission has worked for more than a year on reviewing and recommending potential revisions to the way the city conducts business. They are now ready to share their ideas about term lengths, yearly appointments and municipal salaries with the city.

The commission will present its recommended changes to the charter, which hasn’t been amended in more than a decade, at a public hearing at 6 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.

One of the biggest changes the commission will recommend is changing the term lengths of the mayor and city councilors. Currently, the mayor and seven councilors serve two-year terms, causing a possible turnover each year for half the members. The commission proposes staggered three-year terms.

According to the draft provided to the Kennebec Journal by commission chairman Stephen Langsdorf, the 2017 election would include the mayor and councilors from Ward 2 and Ward 4 elected to three-year terms, and one at-large councilor will be elected to a two-year term.

The following year, the councilors from Ward 1 and 5, and one at-large councilor, will be elected to three-year terms, and the councilor from Ward 3 will be elected to a one-year term. Subsequently, the draft charter says, the term of office for each councilor and the mayor will be three years.

“We did this in Augusta in 1998, and it’s worked very well,” Langsdorf said by phone Monday. “It’s a more modern way of doing business.”

In addition to the change to the term of elected officials, the charter commission recommends raising the mayor’s annual salary to $2,500, an increase of $900, and raising councilors’ yearly salaries from $1,000 to $1,500.

Langsdorf said those salaries haven’t changed in a decade and the commission agreed that a reasonable increase to the stipend was acceptable.

The commission also recommended limiting the bonding authority for the council to $249,999. Any action that would require borrowing $250,000 or more would need to approved by a referendum election. Currently, there is no limit to the amount the city can borrow using bonds.

“We were concerned because there is a lot of talk about bonds with the Stevens School project and the downtown,” Langsdorf said. “It makes sense for people to determine whether there will be a lot of money borrowed by the city.”

The eight-person commission also recommended changes to the way appointments are made each year. Currently, all appointments are for one year, and every office is reappointed annually, including employees who report to the city manager. In the past, Langsdorf said, councilors have had to reappoint employees without having any knowledge of their personnel files or any details of their employment.

The amended charter would stipulate that the mayor, with council approval, will make appointments for the length of the term of office, and the council would confirm certain appointments by the city manager, like the fire and police chief, just once. Those employees would not be reappointed each year; they would be subject to the normal hiring and discipline process.

“Reappointment by the council for the employees is inappropriate,” Langsdorf said.

Langsdorf, of the law firm Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau & Pachios LLP, said the charter, which was created more than 60 years ago, has been amended very little since its creation, which is why reviewing the document made sense. The eight-person commission was appointed by Mayor Mark Walker after Hallowell voters approved its creation last year.

Nobody attended the commission’s first public meeting in March, where the commission planned to discuss term limits, salaries and the powers and responsibilities of the mayor and council. Langsdorf hopes this meeting is better attended.

“I’m hopeful that people will attend so that we can have a sense of whether other people have thoughts on these changes,” he said.

Langsdorf said there was a lot of back and forth between commission members throughout the process, but everyone agreed that the changes made “reasonable and significant improvements.”

“Every change that has been made was done unanimously,” he said. “There were no ‘no’ votes, and we agreed on all the issues.”

The final report will be presented to the council at its meeting Sept. 12. If approved, the amended charter will be placed on the November ballot. It will take effect Jan. 1, 2017, if approved by voters.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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