RUMFORD – Chairman Walter Buotte of the Charter Commission made a required preliminary report to selectmen Thursday night that included possible recommendations ranging from changing the town clerk’s position from elected to appointed to expanding the number of selectmen from five to seven.

His presentation irked tax collector Carlo Puiia, who had objected to the elected commission making any changes except for updating some wording.

Puiia recommended that selectmen not accept the preliminary report.

“The charter was written in 1951 and has been ridiculed as old and outdated, but amendments have been made,” he said.

He added that in March residents were told that changes were needed in the old wording, and that had been done.

“In 2004, a plan to change the form of government started, and that board (selectmen) recruited a town manager to change the government,” he said.

Selectman Mark Belanger said he recalls that the commission was to make only minor revisions, while Buotte said his group was charged with looking at the entire document and then making suggestions for change.

Puiia said he had been threatened by a charter commission member and believes the actions of the commission are not made public because he said minutes are not on file.

“I’ve heard that the tape recorder was turned off,” Puiia said.

Buotte rejected Puiia’s comments.

“This is not the Charter Commission as implied by Mr. Puiia. It is not personally about him. Mr. Puiia takes things very personally,” Buotte said. “The commission has worked very diligently and consciously and in good faith to try to serve this town well. I look forward to an enlightening discussion.”

Puiia had applied for the town manager’s job nearly three years ago when Stephen Eldridge was hired. Eldridge subsequently left following weeks of rancor at least partially related to the charter’s residency requirement, which was upheld by the court. Those court cases cost the town several thousand dollars.

Puiia had also led a move to reject electing a Charter Commission, but the nine-member board was elected, or appointed more than a year ago.

Puiia also said Buotte accused him of being the cause of Eldridge’s termination.

Buotte did not respond to that statement.

Buotte said the draft document of possible changes is a work in progress.

“After the public hearings, things may change. I suspect some items trigger strong feelings. If all changes are passed, Rumford’s government will be advanced,” he said.

Besides proposed changes to expand the Board of Selectmen and appoint the town clerk, the draft document also recommends:

• elimination of the Rumford residency requirement, and replacing it with a mandate that town managers live within the River Valley.

• prohibiting any elected or appointed person from holding more than one office simultaneously.

• elimination of the Finance Committee.

• changing the length of a town manager’s initial contract, and adding some items to the position’s qualifications.

The commission will meet at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Municipal Building to make its official recommendations. From there, copies will be available to the public. Hearings will be held in March. The commission will then make changes, as needed. Voters will make the final decision by secret ballot in June.

Whether the ballot will list one question comprising all proposed changes, or list each proposal separately will not be known until town lawyer Tom Carey makes a recommendation.


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