RUMFORD – The town’s Charter Commission is back in business.

Selectmen on Thursday reversed a decision made last month that would have dissolved the nine-member board and the work it has done to revise the 50-plus-year-old document.

Selectman Mark Belanger, who had originally voted to disband the commission, said that although he was hesitant about changing his vote, he did not want the town to be subject to litigation.

The final vote was 3-1, with Chairman Greg Buccina abstaining, to retract the Dec. 20 vote. Along with Belanger, who made the motion to reverse the vote, Selectman Arthur Boivin, who had voted to disband in December, and Selectman Brad Adley, who had voted against disbanding the commission, voted to reverse the earlier decision. Selectman Frank DiConzo maintained his original decision to dissolve the commission.

The decision was reversed based largely on an opinion submitted by the town’s lawyer, Tom Carey.

In his two-page email, dated Dec. 31, to Town Manager Jim Doar and each member of the Board of Selectmen, Carey writes that once a charter commission is formed, it cannot be dissolved by town officials until 30 days after a final report is submitted to municipal officers. His decision further states that if a timely report is not presented to selectmen, then the commission cannot be dissolved until 24 months after its formation.

The Charter Commission was established after a vote of residents in August 2006 and a preliminary report has already been presented to selectmen.

Carey’s opinion also clarified the meaning of the ballot question voters acted on, particularly the word “revise,” as it relates to whether the commission was authorized to make minor changes only or more major ones, which its preliminary report has already recommended.

According to Carey, “revise” suggests a major modification. The ballot question also included wording that suggested that the commission could “establish a new municipal charter,” although he wrote that selectmen “certainly did not suggest a new municipal charter.”

One of the disagreements among selectmen and some residents was whether the commission was authorized to make major changes, such as proposing that the positions of tax collector and town clerk/treasurer by changed from elected to appointed, or merely updating out-of-date language.

Carey recommended that selectmen rescind their earlier vote, warning that not to do so could trigger court action.

However, Carey also wrote that some confusion about whether the commission’s task was major or minor may have occurred because of actions that had happened at a March selectmen’s meeting when the board voted to “form a charter committee to clean up and update our charter,” and a suggestion by the former town attorney that it was time to “modernize” the charter.

Regardless of those discussions, Carey wrote that the wording of the ballot question was legally binding.

“While there may be sentiment that the commission was formed under false pretenses, that sentiment is now without legal recourse,” he wrote.

He further wrote that those people “who feel that they have been misled, in that the commission has exceeded the scope of its original purpose, can lobby voters to reject the charter amendments proposed by the commission.”

Doar said the board will likely determine which recommendations are minor and which are major, and will decide how they will be presented to voters in June. He said selectmen cannot change or eliminate any of the commission’s recommendations.

Walter Buotte, chairman of the Charter Commission, said public hearings are planned to inform residents about the intent of the proposed changes. He said, too, that he wants to present the changes in a series of ballot questions.


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