WATERVILLE — Language that says the membership of local boards and committees should reflect the diversity of the community will not be included in proposed changes to the city charter.

The Charter Commission voted 6-4 Tuesday to include the language for final consideration by the commission, but the number of votes in favor was not enough to keep the proposal on the table.

When the commission started meeting several weeks ago, members decided that a proposed charter change must garner a commission vote of at least 7-3 to remain open for consideration. Commissioners also decided that before sending any proposed changes to voters, the panel must approve each one by at least a vote of 8-2.

Tuesday’s meeting was livestreamed for the public via a link on the city’s website.

Commissioner Phil Bofia proposed the language regarding diversity be added to the charter. He said it would not mandate that the mayor, when appointing people to boards and committees, has to make sure the appointments reflect diversity in race, gender or other characteristics.

“It doesn’t tie the hands of the mayor,” he said. “It doesn’t say he has to appoint somebody from a protected class.”

Bofia, who is African-American, said the new language would merely serve as a reminder for people to strive to be inclusive.

“It says that we want the makeup of the boards and committees to reflect the diversity of our city,” he said.

The city charter is a document that governs how the city operates. The commission is looking at what changes, if any, should be made to the charter.

Commissioners Hilary Koch, Rien Finch, Samantha Burdick, Lutie Brown and Co-Chairman James Laliberty voted with Bofia for his proposed charter language, but Co-Chairman Tom Nale Jr. and Commissioners Julian Payne, Ron Merrill and Cathy Weeks voted against including the language.

Payne said adding the diversity language would be redundant because minorities already are protected by state and federal laws. Weeks agreed.

“I appreciate Phil putting this together,” she said, “but all of those areas he has outlined are already protected by federal statute.”

Weeks also said if she were the mayor or another person making appointments, she would seek the most qualified person for each position.

She said Bofia, a former city councilor, was chosen from five people who applied because he was the most qualified person. This, Weeks said, is evidence the city does not discriminate.

“I think we’re making a big to-do about something that doesn’t exist in our community,” Weeks said.

But Koch noted the only requirement for people to apply for appointment on boards and committees is that they be residents of the city. There are no required qualifications or prerequisites, she said.

Koch, citing data about current city board and committee makeup, said 74% of leadership positions in Waterville are filled by men. She said there may be a perception that women and men serve equally.

“The numbers suggest something very different,” she said.

She also said that when most people serving in positions are men, it sends a message that men are more qualified than women, and she does not think that is true. White men serve in most positions, and the people who choose to appoint are white men, she said.

Adding the language Bofia proposed allows for a discussion to be had and would serve as a reminder, Koch said.

“It’s a matter of saying, ‘When we look at the numbers, I don’t know that it reflects who we are,” she said.

Finch said the intent of including the diversity language is to state the city’s values and create a safe place for minorities to have a say in the city, even if that is to ask why a person not appointed to a board was deemed not qualified.

“I would hope, having lived here for about a decade now, that Waterville wants to be a city that includes everyone,” Finch said, “and codifying into a charter that we are a city that strives for that is not a bad thing.”

Merrill said he thought Bofia’s point was valid, but the city has come a long way toward being inclusive.

“I think we’re showing progress over the years,” Merrill said, “and I really don’t think we have to find a solution when there is really no problem here.”

He said he agreed with Payne that putting the language in the charter would be “there for show.” The mayor has to choose people who are qualified, according to Merrill.

“I don’t want to tie the mayor’s hands,” he said.

Nale said that while Bofia’s idea “is to be lauded,” adding the language would be redundant. Laliberty said he was in favor of Bofia’s motion and the concept. Both Burdick and Brown echoed that sentiment.

On March 25, Laliberty proposed language be included in the charter that would stipulate boards and commissions be “gender-balanced” in their memberships. His motion failed because the vote was 5-5.

Laliberty, Finch, Koch, Burdick and Brown voted in favor. Nale, Weeks, Merrill, Payne and Bofia voted opposed.


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