RUMFORD — Selectmen voted 4-1 Thursday night to extend the Charter Commission to March 2.
That’s the day the commission must present its recommended changes to the charter in a document delivered to town attorney Jennifer Kreckel, according to Selectman Frank DiConzo’s motion.
“As disappointed as I am in that commission, the citizens voted for this and if I don’t see any report with everything you want to change, if that’s not completed and in the attorney’s hands, I would not vote for an extension beyond March 1,” DiConzo said.
His motion set the deadline for Monday, March 2, because March 1 is a Sunday.
DiConzo accused the commission of dragging its feet, but agreed with Board of Selectmen Chairman Greg Buccina that selectmen had been lax in not having commission members update them continually with their proposed changes.
At a previous board meeting, a motion to extend the commission’s work on the charter for three months so they could finish it to present to town meeting voters in June failed in a 2-2 tie. Selectmen Brad Adley and Jeff Sterling voted affirmatively and DiConzo and Mark Belanger dissented. Buccina was absent.
Since then, commission Chairman Chris Brennick has lobbied the board to reconsider. It was finally placed on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting for further discussion.
Previously, selectmen had approved extending the time for the three board-appointed members, but the tie vote killed their extension for the six elected commission members. The terms of all were up by Nov. 4.
Brennick chastised Belanger and DiConzo for not allowing the commission to complete the work they were given by voters.
“Mr. Belanger and Mr. DiConzo voted against it,” Brennick said. Then, raising his voice, he said, “Even though state law clearly says we should have an extension. So you ignored a state law.”
Brennick said the commission had problems getting legal opinions on their proposed changes from Kreckel.
“I believe, well, it doesn’t matter what I believe,” Brennick said. “But the people of this community elected six people to work on their charter and to come up with revisions. Now we have done that and we have taken painstaking steps to make sure that was done. We have taken a long time because we wanted to be thorough in our work.”
Belanger, without looking at Brennick, spoke directly to Buccina, explaining why he didn’t vote to extend the commission’s time. Citing some state law provisions, Belanger said, “Right from the beginning there seemed to be a lot of discrepancies.”
He recited several lines of statute such as they must hold a public hearing within so many days, must advertise in a newspaper 10 days prior to the hearing, and shall provide a preliminary report nine months after forming that includes the text and/or revisions to the charter that the commission intends to submit to the voters. Those were later labeled technicalities by Buccina, even though Buccina said Belanger was right.
“If you read their preliminary report, there was no charter language in there,” Belanger said. “There was nothing that could tell the people that this is what we’re thinking about doing.”
Brennick told Belanger he was “cherry picking” state statute provisions to fit his opinion. He told DiConzo and Belanger they were cherry picking statute “to make this commission look bad,” even though DiConzo hadn’t said anything.
“You come in and you twist the statute in order to fit your agenda,” he told Belanger.
Belanger said a preliminary report was “way overdue and it didn’t have anything to do with the verbage of the charter changes they wanted to make.
“It just had generalities of things you might do and that’s so confusing to the people,” he said.
Buccina asked if there was anything the board could do to ensure the will of the people was met in wanting a Charter Commission to revise the document to fit the needs of the town.
Other selectmen weighed in, including Sterling, who said it would be bad precedent to reconsider something after the board had already voted against it.
But Town Manager John Madigan said the board didn’t vote against it as a majority. It was a tie vote that killed the motion, he said.
Rinaldo said it wouldn’t make good business sense to kill the commission, then form another one next year to do the same work and fund it with another $3,000 instead of letting the current commission complete its work for $300.
When it looked like the board wasn’t going to reconsider, Selectman Adley said, “I don’t think we did the town of Rumford any good tonight.”
Brennick said the board was on the verge of “flushing down the toilet a year of work” that amounted to 24 hours per person.
Others spoke of extending the commission.
Buccina asked DiConzo if he’d reconsider and motion to extend, which he did while expressing his disappointment with the commission. Belanger was the dissenter in the final vote.