CAMDEN – Select Board Vice Chair Alison McKellar pointed out to the Charter Commission July 21 that many more voters participate when an item is placed on a secret ballot than if it is decided in an open town meeting.

She said the town meeting format favors extroverts, but many people do not like voting publicly where everyone can see them raise their hand for or against an item. In addition, parents who need to watch their children at night, people who work evenings and others with health issues cannot get out and physically attend town meetings. The result is that the town’s business is decided by a small percentage of the population.

Her comments came in response to the commission’s recommendation that the town maintain its current town meeting form of government.

The commission has, since late 2018, been looking at the charter as a whole for possible revisions and updates, something members said has not happened for about 40 years. It held a public hearing Wednesday, July 21.

The commission noted in its findings that there are other options for doing the town’s business than the traditional New England town meeting. One option looked at was to go to a hybrid model with a town council, town meeting and town manager. Police and miscellaneous ordinances would be approved solely by the select board, but town voters would still decide changes to zoning. There is even an option where all ordinances would be approved by the select board.

McKellar and fellow board member Marc Ratner spoke in opposition to a proposed term limit for select board members. The proposed charter change would require a select board member who has served three consecutive three-year terms to take one year off before running for a fourth term.

Ratner said this could interfere with the board members working well together. If a long-time board member had to take a year off, then coming back might mean having to run against another long-term board member they had previously worked with in a collaborative relationship. Aside from that, the quest to bring new blood to the board could mean sacrificing institutional knowledge.

This issue was probably not news to the commission, whose membership included John French, who served for many years on the select board. French said he was not a fan of this proposed change either.

Ratner said they were working to solve a problem that does not exist.

McKellar said it is often hard to find people to serve and there is a learning curve to the work. She said the town should trust the voters. It was pointed out that voters can and have ousted select board members at the polls. That power would remain without term limits.

Another proposed revision would allow for ousting a select board member with three unexcused absences. McKellar said often absences are due to personal reasons such as health issues or family emergencies, and this revision would mean having to bring those sensitive things out in public discussions of whether absences were excused or not. The process of removing a select board member would require a public vote and due process.

The commission has overhauled the personnel board section, making it an advisory committee to the town manager and not an elected office.

The commission also proposed reducing the number of Budget Committee members from 21 to nine regular and two alternates, citing the difficulty of getting so many people together for this work.

McKellar said she was strongly opposed to this change to what has been known historically as the “Committee of 21.”

She argued a large broad group served the town well, providing views from all walks of life.

Others argued that with that many, some never show up or never say anything. It will likely be a subject of continuing debate.

The change would allow budget committee members to serve three consecutive terms. The charter has previously prohibited consecutive terms.

The revisions also include items that address emergency funding, endowments and putting the Planning Board duties in the charter.

The commission will meet Aug. 5 to discuss the feedback from the public hearing and will hold another hearing Aug. 18.

The commission will submit a final report to the Select Board. Residents will vote on charter revisions in a future election, possibly November or next June. You can send comments to the commission at charter@camdenmaine.gov.