Residents of Androscoggin County face important questions on the ballot this November — but few of those questions are as significant or as far-reaching as whether or not to adopt the county’s first-ever charter.
Androscoggin County government is now operating under governance determined almost 200 years ago, and based on the conditions and lifestyle of that time.
A charter is a template by which government is organized and managed. It is a flow chart of the specific powers and authorities vested in elected officials and the many administrative offices that serve the public.
Think of a charter as the proverbial pyramid you would diagram to illustrate who answers to whom in your office or organization.
In this case, a charter also lays the legal foundation for what kinds of services the county will provide in the future. So, adopting a charter impacts the public directly.
State legislation provides an orderly and lawful process to create a home-rule form of government that addresses challenges that are specific to the region. Four counties — Aroostook, Cumberland, Knox and Somerset — have already adopted charters; others are in the process.
In fact, citizens began a process to adopt a home rule charter two years ago when they elected people to serve on a charter commission, asking only that they return with a more responsive and efficient form of regional government.
The commission did just that, and is now asking voters to decide if they want Androscoggin County to adopt its first-ever charter.
In the process of preparing a recommended charter, the nine members of the Charter Commission held three public hearings, taking input from current county officials and the general public. Commissioners then took the recommendations to meetings in every municipality in the Androscoggin County — asking for and getting feedback from both municipal officials and the public.
The new home rule charter empowers Androscoggin County to incorporate a number of best practices in government. Among them, centralizing authority in a county administrator's office, improving constituent representation, and broadening the scope of services the government now provides to more than 105,000 people in 14 municipalities.
The charter to be voted upon will allow for the increase of the number of commissioners from the current three to seven, allowing for more representation per capita. The charter will generally provide for a more modern structure of county government.
The Charter Commission took the proposed charter to all the municipalities in Androscoggin County and the reaction of both selectmen and citizens has been generally favorable. As commissioners, we worked almost two years to put together a home rule charter for Androscoggin County that will improve the functioning of county government.
We hope the citizens of Androscoggin County agree and vote yes on the new county charter.
Richard Gross is chairman, Richard Grandmaison, the vice chairman, and Charles Morrison, the secretary of the Androscoggin County Charter Commission.