WATERVILLE — City Manager Mike Roy favors abolishing Waterville’s ward system as a way of encouraging more people to run for office, but he said Thursday he did not expect to be ridiculed on social media for comments he made to two city councilors on the matter.

“When the time comes, yes, I want to talk about getting rid of the ward system for one reason, which is I believe it restricts, not encourages, people from getting involved in local government,” Roy said.

“Contrary to what was said on social media, it’s not about getting better people. That’s nothing I ever said or thought of. I’m only interested in making sure people have as much an opportunity as possible to run for office, and I think the ward system discourages that.”

Roy said he met recently with incoming Councilors Jay Coelho and Erik Thomas as part of an orientation for new councilors and had mentioned a charter commission will need to be appointed in 2019 to review the city charter, as is done every seven years.

He said when the discussion comes up, he would favor eliminating the city’s current ward system, by which city councilors and school board members are elected from each of seven geographic regions.

It’s typical for larger municipalities to be divided by wards or districts, but the Maine Municipal Association, a nonprofit supporting local government, doesn’t track how many conduct elections by district or ward rather than at large.

The city of Portland, for example, has a City Council made up of five district councilors, three at-large members and an elected mayor; while Bangor’s council is made up of nine councilors elected at large.

On Wednesday, Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro and school board member Julian Payne posted Facebook messages condemning the idea of eliminating wards, saying it would take away the voices of certain communities of residents.

“Well-connected insiders, who do not like the outcomes of some recent elections, are quietly working on a scheme to eliminate Our Wards by amending the city charter,” Isgro wrote.

It was not clear who Isgro was referring to as “well-connected insiders” and he did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Roy, however, said he could assume only that the post was directed at him.

“I’m shocked it would get to the point where people are trying to silence someone who might have a different point of view before that person has a chance to explain the reasoning,” Roy said. “I don’t know who else the mayor would be referring to.”

In his post, Payne, a Democrat who recently has sided with Republicans on local issues, identified Roy and said, “The city manager Mike Roy is promoting the abolishing of the ward system. This is a form of cleansing for the elites in my opinion. His reasoning is it would promote better applicants. That statement is a total insult to every city councilor and school board member. How about the community votes every November whether or not to renew the city manager’s contract.”

Abolishing the ward system would make it harder for councilors and school board members to get to know their constituents, require candidates to campaign across the entire city and lead to less diversity of representatives, Payne said.

Roy, meanwhile, said his remarks were not an attack on current representatives and he is not seeking to find better candidates, but only to make it more accessible for residents to run for seats.

“I think there are people out there who would like to serve but are unable to do so because they live in a particular ward where the person wants to keep running, yet there are other wards where there is a hard time finding candidates,” Roy said.

“That person would like to serve and cannot run in another ward. I’m not sure serving your city should be solely determined on where you live. It has nothing to do with finding better councilors. It’s about opening the opportunity up for as many people as possible.”

Wednesday’s post by the mayor is not the first time he has clashed with the city manager over claims made on Facebook.

In June, Isgro inaccurately posted that the City Council voted to start the process of raising property taxes by 10 percent and said “outside special interest groups” were trying to sow fear and intimidate residents.

“I’m shocked and saddened by the claim from our mayor that the people are working with outside interests to control the city,” Roy said at the time. “I cannot understand how he could say that — period.”

In his post Wednesday, Isgro, a Republican, also wrote he would like to see political party affiliations removed from elections for local offices.

The idea is part of a plan the mayor has called “Waterville Works” that also includes placing a 3 percent cap on the amount property taxes can be increased per year and requiring people paid to lobby city officials to register with the city clerk.

“Political parties are subject to influence by lobbyists and outside special interests, and they try to divide us by making us look at each other as adversaries instead of neighbors,” Isgro said. “When we look at each other as neighbors, we think of Sandy, Jim, Karen, Hank, etc. — we don’t think of each other as Democrats and Republicans. We should look at each other the same way when voting.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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