WATERVILLE — The Charter Commission voted 7-3 Tuesday not to eliminate the position of mayor following a lengthy discussion about whether the position is needed.

Commission Secretary Rien Finch made a motion to do away with the position, saying residents for several years have discussed the matter and many say that because Waterville has a city manager the mayor’s position is superfluous and unnecessary. The powers and duties of the mayor, he said, could be shifted to the City Council chairman.

A former city Charter Commission reduced the power of the mayor and shifted them to the city manager, Finch said.

Lutie Brown seconded Finch’s motion for discussion purposes. She reiterated Finch’s contention that people see the mayor’s position as “kind of a purposeless role.” She also favored eliminating the mayor’s position, but Hilary Koch said she thinks the mayor’s salary and powers should be increased.

“I kind of think with a city of our size, there’s something nice about having somebody who should act as an ambassador, give speeches, judge a speech contest at the junior high …” Koch said, adding that a city manager conducts city business. She said she thought that eliminating the position now would be seen as partisan politics and she would not support it.

Commission co-Chairman Tom Nale Jr., said that, with the growth Waterville is experiencing now, the city needs an ambassador who communicates with prospective businesses and others.

“I’m inclined to want to keep the mayor because of where Waterville is headed,” said Nale, whose father, also Tom Nale, is a former mayor.

Cathy Weeks said she thinks the mayor’s position should remain but stressed that the qualifications for the position should be tightened. Ron Merrill also said he favored keeping the position, as it is part of the city’s history. Former councilor Phil Bofia said he wants to keep the mayor’s position but eliminate the partisan aspect of it.

But Julian Payne said that, out of all questions facing the commission, the mayor’s position is the one he has grappled with the most.

“I, personally, do not think that Waterville needs the position of mayor,” he said.

The position’s powers were stripped, the mayor’s power of veto is difficult to uphold and cities about the size of Waterville that do not have mayors have “stayed out of the fray of it,” Payne, a member of the Waterville Board of Education, said. He said a council chairperson and city manager can cut ribbons at events.

“I think Waterville needs a breather,” he said.

Payne also said he thinks the question of whether to eliminate the mayor’s position is one the public ought to be able to decide.

Samantha Burdick favored keeping the position. A mayor is a goodwill ambassador who spends time with the city manager and with people coming into the city to start businesses and works with the Central Maine Growth Council, which is important, according to Burdick.

“I really like having one person that has to look at the city as a whole and not just their ward,” she said. “I honestly think that the mayor does a lot more than maybe some of us see.”

Commission co-Chairman James Laliberty said there are valued arguments to eliminate the position and to keep it. He said he likes the fact that Waterville has a mayor who can act as a point person and “shake hands and kiss babies,” and he favors keeping the position as is.

In other matters, the commission voted 10-0 to clarify language in the charter around appointing a city health officer. State law requires that the officer be a doctor of medicine or osteopathy. The commission voted to amend the language to say that if the state changes the rules to say a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner could take the role, the city charter language would reflect that and be in compliance with the state rules. As part of the amendment, the language would also say the appointment of a public health officer must meet City Council approval.

At the commission’s last meeting Feb. 25, members decided not to eliminate the city’s ward system. An amendment by Finch to make two of the city councilors at-large councilors failed in a 2-8 vote, with Finch and Laliberty the only members to vote for Finch’s motion.

The commission Feb. 25 voted to remove the charter requirement to post ordinances in the newspaper, according to Finch, the secretary. Members also clarified that only certain boards and committees must file minutes with the city clerk; removed some redundant language around candidate petitions and referendum petitions; and clarified that when a recall is successful, a person is removed immediately.

Members discussed a recommendation to add language that would restrict the ability of parties to hold caucuses earlier than candidates could take out petition papers, but did not choose to do so. They also decided not to add language that would restrict petition/referendum signers from residing outside Waterville.

Finch said earlier Tuesday in an email that the question about adding at-large councilors is one he thinks should be taken up again in the future.

“It’s an issue the next charter is going to have to tackle, and I hope they can see the necessity of it,” he said. “I do think the voters of this city would have supported having binding citywide representation, and I hope they can consider it in seven years’ time. ”

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.

The commission several weeks ago formed subcommittees to explore various aspects of the city charter and whether parts of it should be changed or remain the same. Subcommittees members spoke to current and some former city councilors, the mayor, city manager and former charter commission members.


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