WATERVILLE — The Waterville Charter Commission on Tuesday wasn’t ready to remove discussion about whether to change the ward system from the table, though most said they think the public wants to maintain that system.

The nine members present decided to continue discussing the ward system at the panel’s next meeting, to be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 11 in the Front Street Conference room in the basement of City Hall.

The current ward system requires that seven city councilors represent the city’s seven wards and seven Waterville Board of Education members represent seven wards.

At a Jan. 8 public hearing of the Charter Commission, several residents said they wanted to maintain that system.

At Tuesday’s meeting, commission Co-chairman Tom Nale Jr. reported that, as part of his work on a commission subcommittee, he spoke with all seven city councilors and five were vehemently opposed to changing the ward system. None said they had heard from constituents who wanted to change the system, he said. Mayor Nick Isgro felt the same way, but City Manager Michael Roy was in favor of changing it, he said.

“I just don’t think that there’s any substantive support for that position, for the people in the city,” Nale said.

Much of Tuesday’s meeting focused on the ward system issue, with Nale saying he was inclined to take a vote Tuesday to eliminate it as a topic of discussion going forward because there was so much public support for keeping it.

Members Hilary Koch and Rien Finch, however, said they were uncomfortable voting on the issue so quickly. Finch said he agreed with Koch that members “shouldn’t be taking a vote to not change something.”

“I don’t want to shut us out of something right now,” he said.

Members Julian Payne and Ron Merrill agreed with Nale, saying the panel had done its due diligence on the issue. Cathy Weeks also concurred.

“I feel like we should vote to ensure the ward system remains intact,” she said. “Put it to bed.”

But member Phil Bofia said that, while he supports the ward system, he wants to hear from people who don’t want it. Finch said a couple of people he spoke to suggested having at-large councilors and going to nine instead of seven councilors as the population grows.

“I think we do them a disservice by not hearing them out,” he said.

Co-chairman James Laliberty said the commission’s purpose is to make changes, if appropriate.

“If everyone wants the ward system to stay the same, it’s going to be the easiest thing in the world,” he said. “We do nothing.”

Member Samantha Burdick said there might be an instance where the commission decides to make a change related to the ward system and if members voted Tuesday to eliminate the ward system as a discussion item, that could impact whether they could vote on a ward-related item.

“I think just to kind of scratch something is doing a disservice as well,” she said.

Nale said his point was that the commission has a lot of issues to look into and if members come to a consensus now on what issues to focus on, the process will be more efficient.

“If there’s no support to changing the ward system, I’d think there’s some value in all of us recognizing that,” he said.

In other matters, the commission decided to table discussing whether the city should prohibit school employees from serving on the council. They did so after Payne said he spoke to several people who said lawsuits have been filed in southern Maine on that issue and the charter commission should wait until they are resolved before discussing it.

Payne said he has always believed it is a conflict of interest for a school employee to sit on a council, but he would not go against the city solicitor’s advice to wait until the lawsuits are resolved.

“It’s not an issue I’m going to push for, despite my beliefs,” he said.

Nale agreed.

“For now, I think the most prudent thing to do is to just put that on the back burner,” he said.

After much discussion Tuesday, the commission voted 9-0 to require a vote of 7-3 to make an individual charter revision and 8-2 to send it to the City Council. Member Lutie Brown was absent from the meeting due to illness.

The city charter is like a local constitution that governs how the city operates. It requires that voters every seven years be asked whether a charter commission should be established to revise the charter or establish a new one. Voters in November decided to establish the commission and elected charter commission members from each city ward. The city council also appointed three members.

The commission reviews the charter and makes recommendations as to what changes, if any, should be made. There is no legal requirement that changes be made. The commission also receives public input, as it did at last week’s public hearing.

The schedule for commission meetings, which are open to the public, is listed on the city’s website — www.waterville-me.gov.

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