RUMFORD — After a lengthy discussion Thursday night on what to do about the charter, selectmen decided to hold a workshop with the Maine Municipal Association.
That was police Chief Stacy Carter's idea after board Chairman Greg Buccina broached the topic of either modifying it to current times or eliminating it altogether, or convening another Charter Commission.
To explain frustration about its shortcomings, Buccina used the example of Carter's recent request that the board approve his pursuit of a federal grant to pay three years of a new officer's wages and benefits.
The town would then pick up the required fourth year match using savings from the first three years.
However, Buccina said the charter doesn't allow selectmen to tie the hands of a future board by approving a multiyear grant.
“Obviously, there's been some instances where the charter served us well and guides us on our ability to conduct our business for the community,” Buccina said.
“And then, on the other side of the coin, the charter at certain times can inhibit our ability to do business quickly when we need to respond. We have to go through protocols that maybe aren't always beneficial.”
Selectman Jeff Sterling recalled past conflicts that the board and Town Manager Carlo Puiia had with the charter when trying to resolve issues or negotiate for better deals on buying vehicles.
With one issue, Sterling said he remembers Puiia describing a conflict as “old legislation meeting new legislation.”
That's why Sterling said he wouldn't oppose assembling a Charter Commission.
He also suggested that resident Kevin Saisi, “who is certainly our resident charter-ologist, who knows it back and forth and a lot of the in-between,” conduct a discussion on Saisi's ideas about possible changes.
Chief Carter said something needs to be done.
“I've seen over the last five or six years that the charter has caused nothing but contention on the board or through the community, because it basically prohibited us from moving forward,” he said.
“People use the charter as a tool to knock things down. You can go through there and find language that is not up with the times to prevent progress.”
Rumford's charter was written in 1950.
“Back then, it may have been a good tool,” Carter said. “But when things come forward that are being prevented for progress as in economic development, waiting until June or waiting until November isn't always the best solution for us.”
Two changes to the charter can only be done in June and November.
“I just think that we're in a time that Rumford needs to grow,” Carter said. “The only way to get out of our economic woes is for growth, and when things prohibit it, then I think we're just going down the wrong path.”
“I'm looking for ways to progress and I find that the charter is just holding us back,” he said.
Selectman Brad Adley said he'd like to explore the idea of a charter commission, but doesn't favor eliminating the charter.
“It has its strengths, but something needs to be done,” Adley said.
Buccina suggested polling residents “to see what people's thoughts are on eliminating the charter completely and fall back on our ordinances or set up a charter commission.”
That's when Carter suggested the workshop to better understand the merits of a charter as opposed to ordinances and state law.
“I think that's an excellent idea,” Buccina said before cautioning the board that a workshop doesn't mean the board is rushing toward a solution.
“We don't want to put people into a panic,” he said. “It's just going to be discussed — the pros and cons.”