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Commission proposes Select Board term limits

Charter Commission updates Select Board on progress
By Susan Mustapich | Jan 23, 2020
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Charter Commission Chairperson Deb Dodge, left, presents proposed changes to the town's governing document to the Select Board Jan. 21.

Camden — The Charter Commission proposed several changes Jan. 21, including setting term limits and establishing a recall process for Select Board members, and creating a smaller Budget Committee.

Chairman Deb Dodge and Vice Chairman Lowrie Sargent updated Select Board members on the commission's progress. Dodge said the charter has not been updated since 1979, so the "committee members were all starting from scratch together."

Sargent compared the charter to the Constitution for the town, and gave examples of how the town government has changed since the late 1970s.

He outlined numerous recommendations to clarify town procedures, including anything before the board requires three affirmative votes to pass, eliminate the board secretary position because it is obsolete, introduce a limit of three terms for Select Board members, and create a recall process for board members.

Sargent said the recall would be reserved for severe situations such as graft, bribery, or poor attendance.

Commission members are recommending the Budget Committee consist of nine members, instead of the 27 serving currently.

Another recommendation is for the town manager to prepare a 10-year, long-term capital plan. The current charter assigns this to the Planning Board every five years. Sargent said that to his knowledge, the Planning Board has never done this.

When Sargent brought up financial best practices, clarifying administration of unexpended fund balances and fund transfers, and endowment and gift fund management, board chairman Bob Falciani asked that the commission speak with Finance Director Jodi Hanson to see how financials are handled.

Select Board Vice Chairperson Alison McKellar asked if the Commission is looking at "big existential questions."

She asked, does the Select Board form of government work for us? McKellar said there is a low participation rate in town government, noting that "it works well for the people who are involved."

Dodge said that discussion was raised with town attorney Bill Kelly, who reviewed the forms of town government with the commission. The consensus among commission members is that the town meeting form of government works well for Camden. Even with a low turnout, at least 40 or more people are present to vote on the annual budget. A City Council can pass a budget with three to five people, she said.

The commission was approved and members were appointed in June 2019. One question was whether the mission was to fix inconsistencies and update sections or take a more comprehensive look at the charter. Members realized that the charter needed to be clear and easy to understand and reflect how the town governs today, Dodge said. Another focus is updating the charter to include best practices and changes to make town government more efficient and responsive.

The commission has incorporated information provided by board members, Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell, Kelly, and former town manager Roger Moody. Members have also researched governance in other towns, interviewed a couple of town managers and received citizen input.

The next step is to polish the current rough working draft, and have it reviewed by Kelly, Dodge said. This preliminary report will then be presented in public meetings.

The Commission is preparing charter revisions for a November vote, Dodge said. She requested an extension to August to finalize the document that will be reviewed by the board and in public hearings, leading up to the vote. The board unanimously approved an extension of the work through August.

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