AUGUSTA — With the clock ticking on a city charter requirement to establish a charter commission at least every 10 years to review the city’s prime guiding document, city officials are considering ways to speed up the charter review process, including potentially removing that review requirement.

Stephen Langsdorf, city attorney, suggested recently that councilors consider asking if voters would agree to remove the requirement the charter be reviewed by a commission every 10 years, making that optional instead of mandatory. He and some councilors said the charter has been refined over the years and doesn’t need major revisions or an in-depth, potentially expensive and time-consuming review process.

They noted there probably isn’t enough time to elect a charter commission and have the charter review complete before the end of the year. Minor changes might be made to the charter by a quicker, cheaper, amendment process.

“I think it’s a healthy exercise to take a look at your charter and make sure you’re governing yourself the way you want to,” said At-Large Councilor Mark O’Brien, who served as chairman of the city’s last charter review commission. “We’ve had multiple looks at it, and each iteration we’ve fine-tuned more and more. Personally I think it’s a pretty well-working document. I don’t think there is a real need, apart from the charter requirement, to have a charter commission. I’d feel comfortable making whatever changes we want to propose by amendments and try to get them on the ballot in November when we’d have the requisite turnout.”

The last charter commission formed in 2007, and voters approved charter revisions the group recommended in November 2008.

Langsdorf said the city wouldn’t be in violation of the charter’s 10-year commission review requirement if voters remove that requirement before the end of this year. If a majority of voters reject that change, then the city still could form a charter review commission, though the commission probably wouldn’t have time to complete its work this year.

The process is complicated by state law, which makes any changes to a municipality’s charter subject to approval by voters in a referendum in which at least 30 percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election turn out to vote.

Langsdorf and City Clerk Roberta Fogg said a turnout that high isn’t likely to occur in an election year without a gubernatorial or presidential election drawing people out to vote, but it would be this year, for a Maine gubernatorial election, or in 2020, for the next presidential election.

Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant expressed reluctance to remove the requirement to establish a charter commission to review the charter at least every 10 years.

“Personally, I struggle with this. We have a charter for a reason, and this provision was put in by a previous charter commission for a good reason,” he said. “For me, I think we ought to honor the city’s guiding document. I don’t know if I’m there on not having a charter commission.”

Other city councilors said they could support the idea, but only if voters are asked first whether they wish to keep the requirement a commission be formed every 10 years to review the charter.

City Manager William Bridgeo said if citizens have concerns about something in the charter, they still could use the petition process to seek to change the charter.

“Put the question out to voters to remove the (10-year review requirement), or make it optional,” At-Large Councilor Corey Wilson said. “I think the citizens are still protected. I don’t see an issue.”

Langsdorf said the requirement the charter be reviewed every 10 years was added by the 1998 charter commission. He said there is no state requirement that a municipality review its charter or make changes to it within a set period of time.

On Thursday night, city councilors are scheduled to take up a proposal, which was tabled at a meeting last year, to establish a charter commission. Bridgeo said councilors could vote that proposal down and schedule an informational meeting to discuss other options, or revisit forming a charter commission.

Councilors are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the council chamber at Augusta City Center.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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