Councilors, mayor agree: People need to move to front of city decisions

AUBURN – More ward meetings, more subcommittees – those are a start, according to Auburn’s incoming city councilors.

Three new councilors will be sworn in and inaugurated Monday night, along with four city council veterans and Mayor John Jenkins. The inauguration is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at Central Maine Community College.

Councilors say they expect to offer more opportunities for Auburn residents during their terms. Those would include new committees to ride herd on city services, a budget overview group and more ward meetings

“The ward meetings, those were a huge thing for us,” said Ward 4 Councilor Bruce Bickford, who ran unopposed for his seat. “That’s where we got a lot of the work done, where we got our priorities about street paving and spring cleanup. Those were very important.”

The city hosted a series of five meetings in the spring, designed to hear the public’s issues. Mayor Jenkins said he’s already planning meetings, scheduled for the spring of 2008.

“Our goal is to make sure the citizens have a place in the city’s processes, and that they know what they can do,” Jenkins said. “Really, we want them involved more now than ever before.”

Beyond those meetings, Jenkins said he’d like to create a citizens services board to review the public’s requests for service and how well city officials handle those requests. He also hopes to establish a youth leadership program, finding local high school students to sit on city boards and advise elected officials.

Beyond talk

But councilors said they want to be sure the citizens’ ideas are actually used.

“In the past, these things tended to fizzle out,” said Ward 3 Councilor-elect Dan Herrick. “That’s my biggest concern. You get people excited, you get these good ideas. But if you don’t actually move on them you lose the people’s trust.”

Councilor-elect Ron Potvin, one of two at-large city councilors, agreed.

“Every political body, they can be reluctant to change,” he said. “I’m excited, because I think this group really does want to do some things for the taxpayers, big time.”

For example, Potvin, is calling for a $6 million cut in property taxes over the next two years. Bickford sees the council trying to keep a tighter grip on the city’s purse strings.

“As a council, I don’t think this group is going to be willing to spend money now to make it back later,” he said.

Ward 5 Councilor Ray Berube is proposing an ordinance requiring every council decision and executive session discussions be made public.

“Once a deal has been made, if it’s in a back room, we’d have a set time – 30, 60 or 90 days – before it would have to be brought before the council publicly,” Berube said. “Then, there’d be no back room deals. No excuses.”

Lightening the load

Jenkins said he will expect councilors to pick up more of the slack during this new term. That was part of his understanding with constituents when he agreed to serve if elected this summer; if elected, he would have to spend less time in his work as mayor and more time devoted to his business.

Jenkins didn’t mount an official campaign, but was elected overwhelmingly in a write-in campaign.

“I’ve already spoken to the councilors, and they know they will be sharing more of the work load, especially representing the city at many events,” Jenkins said. “It seems the mayor is going to just about everything; you could spend every day in meetings. So spreading that workload out amongst the councilors, we can make it all easier.”

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