Charter petition anticipated in Newry
Newry selectmen Tuesday voted 2-1 against setting up a Charter Commission to draw up a town charter.
But Selectman Brooks Morton, who proposed the idea and voted in favor, said after the meeting he expects a citizen petition to force the move. About 15 residents attended the meeting.
Morton began advocating for a charter at the April 1 board meeting, saying the town needed to better spell out the duties of town officials and the procedures for conducting town business.
In continuing to make his case for a town charter Tuesday, Morton questioned whether combining the officers of town clerk, tax collector and treasurer under Town Administrator Loretta Powers’ position was in compliance with state law.
He also said the responsibility for determining how selectmen, town officials and employees perform their duties should not lie within that group, and a charter would provide a framework for setting out those duties.
Morton also advocated for switching the source of town legal advice from the Maine Municipal Association to a town attorney because he said, “MMA is promoting their agenda, and a town attorney will protect ours. MMA should be Step 1, not the final answer,” he said.
Responding to Morton, Selectboard Chair Wendy Hanscom said other towns, like Woodstock, consolidate the offices Morton cited under their town manager. And, she said, “I think we have a history of operating with in the law efficiently, under home rule, that the state also outlines.”
But Morton said he has been voicing and keeping a record of his concerns about the town, without getting satisfactory results.
Meeting with citizens
He also took issue with Powers telling him when he came into the Town Office recently that “it was not appropriate to meet with citizens. Reference was made to a meeting I called with some people who were in the area to meet at Fred Burk’s, to have them come and listen to what I had to say. That’s freedom of assembly. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Countered Powers, “I feel if you call one person you should call everybody.” She said she believed selectmen “usually work as three, not as one. When people have any questions, they should either call all three or come here to the office. I always thought that was part of my job. They ask questions, and I ask them to put it in writing so I can bring it to everybody, all at the same time. Personally, this looks like your agenda, it doesn’t look like their agenda. It looks like your personal agenda. And I know that’s not what you mean, but that’s how it looked to us.”
Powers later suggested selectmen put the question of a Charter Commission to townspeople at a public meeting, giving them a choice of pursuing the charter, or possibly looking at bylaws or just changing policy.
Selectman Gary Wight agreed.
“You have a certain number of towns in the state that have charters, you have a certain number that have bylaws … I don’t know why we can’t let the people decide which way we’re going to go,” he said.
But Morton said if the board started the commission process, the people could then decide if they want to commit to it.
After about an hour of discussion, Morton moved for selectmen to start the process for a Charter Commission.
But, said Hanscom, “ I guess the first way I would like to see the town express interest in a charter is to petition for it. So I won’t be voting in favor of it.”
Wight joined her in opposition.