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Lewiston Charter Amendments Summary 2012

Lewiston Charter Amendments Summary 2012

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Published by Scott Taylor

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Published by: Scott Taylor on Oct 18, 2012
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CITY OF LEWISTONPROPOSED CHARTER AMENDMENTS A SIMPLIFIED EXPLANATIONBACKGROUNDLast year, a Charter Committee composed of 7 citizens undertook a comprehensive review of the Charter, something that hadn’t been done since it was adopted in the 1980’s. The majorityof the recommended changes are minor – cleaning up and clarifying language and makingminor adjustments. Some, however, are substantive. The following summarizes the changesand why the Committee recommended them.QUESTION ONE – CITY COUNCILThis would clarify that the Council President can make appointments when acting as Mayorduring a temporary absence or disability of the Mayor lasting for more than 45 days. Rightnow, it’s not clear if the Council President can do this. It would allow him to fill vacancies onsuch Boards as Planning, Board of Appeals, etc. so that normal city business can continue.It would allow the Council to appoint a temporary presiding officer if both the Mayor andCouncil President are absent. The Council can probably do this anyway, but this makes it clear.To call a special meeting, notices have to be delivered to each Councilor in person at least 6hours in advance. This change would allow the Council to establish an alternative procedure,hopefully one that is easier and less demanding on the City Clerk and her staff.Finally, the Council would be specifically authorized to act by motion in addition to order,resolve, and ordinance. This will make it easier for the Council to act on minor items andrecognizes that the Council has at times acted simply by motion.QUESTION TWO – ORDINANCESThis would eliminate the current $1,000 limit on fines for violating City ordinances sinceseparate limits already exist under state law. Having a fixed number in the Charter is notnecessary and could be a problem in the future as inflation erodes a set amount.It would simplify the process for repealing or amending ordinances. Right now, the fullordinance text has to be set out with all the changes highlighted. Reproducing some lengthyordinances, such as building codes and our zoning ordinance, is expensive and cumbersome.There is a current requirement that if an ordinance is “substantively” amended at first or secondreading (it takes two separate readings to adopt an ordinance), the entire process has to beginover. This can be expensive since a notice must be published in the newspaper. It’s also notclear when an amendment is a “substantive” change. This eliminates the requirement to startthe process over if there is a change while the item is under consideration.QUESTION THREE – CITY ADMINISTRATOR The Charter requires that the Council to confirm the City Administrator’s appointment of individuals to certain positions, primarily those involving City finances. Over the years, the City
has consolidated staffing so that some of these positions no longer report to the Administratorbut rather to the Finance Director. This would eliminate Council confirmation of anyappointments other than the Finance Director where confirmation remains an appropriatesafeguard.It would allow the Administrator to designate someone to act for him or her during temporaryabsences such as a vacation or City business trip. Any absence of 30 days or more would stillrequire the Council to appoint an Acting Administrator.QUESTION FOUR – TERM LIMITATIONSPlanning Board and Board of Appeals members are limited to one consecutive five year termwithin a ten year period. This change would allow for two consecutive five year terms. TheCommittee felt this would give the Mayor a broader pool to choose from including individualswith experience on these Boards.QUESTION FIVE – SCHOOL COMMITTEEMost of the changes simply modernize this section of the Charter.Two provisions (Council approval of School labor contracts and the requirement that the SchoolDepartment comply with Council Ordinances and Policies involving city employees) have beenstruck down by Maine Courts and should be eliminated since they cannot be enforced. Another change requires the School Superintendent to be selected only on the basis of his orher executive and administrative qualifications and to be a resident of Lewiston unlessotherwise approved by the School Committee. Similar language already applies to the City Administrator. The Committee felt that a competency standard was appropriate and that theSuperintendent should live in Lewiston unless the School Committee approves otherwise.The rest of the changes are procedural and require the School Committee to adopt certainpractices such as providing advance notice of meetings, encouraging public participation,setting a majority of its members as a quorum, allowing any member to request a roll call vote,and requiring five affirmative votes (a majority of all members) to take action.QUESTION 6 – FISCAL PROCEDURESThese are also largely clean-up amendments that should have no major impact on how the Cityoperates. For example, this amendment eliminates the language setting the City’s fiscal year asthe calendar year. The Council changed this years ago and it doesn’t need to be in the Charter.It clarifies that the City can issue Bond Anticipation Notes. These are short term notes that canbe issued prior to selling long-term bonds. They might be used to cover immediate cash flowneeds or to allow the City to better structure its longer term debt service payments. Overall,such notes provide the City with greater financial flexibility.Increasing the time the City can contract with an outside firm to audit our books from three tofive years matches the standard contract length for such work. A longer contract may allow forgreater competition since a new firm will have more time to recover the additional first yearcosts associated with getting up to speed on the City’s finances and procedures.
The Charter requires the Council to vote on approving a bond issue within seven to fifteen daysof publishing a notice of public hearing on the bonds. If the Council decides to postpone a voteto get more information or hear further from the public, the whole process has to start over,including the cost of publishing a new hearing notice. This will allow some delay in the processwhile still requiring the Council to act within sixty days of the public hearing.QUESTION 7: NOMINATIONS, ELECTIONS, AND VACANCIESThis question recommends a number of substantive changes. Right now, a special election isrequired if there is a School Committee vacancy for more than one year. Such elections areexpensive and often result in low turnout. This amendment would allow the Mayor to nominateand the Council to confirm an eligible individual to fill any vacancy on the Committee.Now, a special election is required if a City Council position is not filled at a regular election.The amendment would authorize the remaining Councilors to either appoint someone or call aspecial election. The Charter Committee originally recommended that the vacancy be filled byappointment. The Council added the option of calling a special election to allow flexibility torespond to situations where that might be more appropriate.Write-in candidates would be required to register with the City Clerk at least 30 days in advanceof an election in order for their votes to be counted. This is intended to let everyone know inadvance who is running for office and avoid “surprise” candidates.Finally, a write-in candidate would be required to receive at least the same number of votes asare required for nomination to be officially on the ballot (50 for School Committee and CityCouncil, 100 for Mayor). The Charter Committee was concerned about the lack of candidatesfor some offices, particularly the School Committee, and the potential that someone could beelected with less than the required number of votes to be nominated. The Committee felt thata candidate should show some reasonable level of support to actually be elected to office.QUESTION 8: GENERAL PROVISIONSThis amendment clarifies when newly elected officials take office. If the first Monday in January(the normal date to take office) is either a holiday or the day after a holiday, they would takeoffice on Tuesday, making it easier to schedule the inauguration and the Council’s first meeting. A new provision would require the Mayor to appoint a Charter Review Committee every tenyears to make recommendations on any changes and updates. The Committee felt it was agood idea to periodically have a group of citizens review the charter.QUESTION 9: COMPENSATION AND FORFEITURE OF OFFICESpecific compensation levels for elected officials and those appointed to certain Boards andCommittees appear throughout the Charter, but the Council is also authorized and in somecases has increased those levels by Ordinance. This change simply eliminates the specific dollaramounts. It also allows the Council to set a daily rate of compensation for Councilors appointedto represent the City on governing bodies of various organizations, most of which are jointagencies between Lewiston and Auburn.

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