RUMFORD — Charter Commission members met Tuesday night with Rumford Town Manager John Madigan to gain insight on handling problems with the town charter.

They tabled any actual work on the charter to their Feb. 4 meeting.

Madigan spoke about how town governments operate and use interlocal agreements to share services and save money, and how a charter can impede those agreements.

“The key is the citizens voting,” he said. “If you have a charter that regulates how you do business, you have in the charter that once the citizens vote, they vote to approve the charter, they vote to amend the charter, they vote to repeal the charter and they can vote to join an interlocal agreement.

“You just have to make that authority clear that they then operate under that set of rules,” he said.

Chairman Chris Brennick said he believes that a statement added to the charter allowing interlocal agreements between Mexico and Rumford needs to be drafted by town attorney Jennifer Kreckel rather than the commission.

“Language is a funny thing,” Madigan said. “Language can take something that should be simple and turn it into a nightmare, and vice versa, you know? So you’ve got to be reasonable, that’s all.

“And probably one of the biggest issues since I’ve been here is that the original charter worked great for its time,” he said of the 1951 document. “It was well written, well thought out. It worked a long time.”

However, he said people grew tired of it and started making several amendments without ensuring that every change didn’t conflict with something else in the charter.

“I think what you’ve got are a lot of areas where that may or may not have been done, which causes more and more confusion,” Madigan said.

“That’s a big thing — to make sure that everything fits for every part of a charter so there’s a clear trail of responsibilities and obligations without conflict,” he said. “You’ve got to really look at it to make sure that an action over here isn’t conflicting with an action over there. And, of course, you not only have the charter, you have bylaws and that happens there, too.”

He then suggested they get samples of charters from other towns to better understand how to proceed with changes.

Member Kevin Saisi said that from his discussions with selectmen, some have said there are discrepancies between the charter and ordinances. He said language in ordinances can be amalgamated into the charter, rather than creating new ordinances.

“A charter is supposed to be a guide,” Madigan said. “These are the principles that we want the community to adhere to. The ordinances deal with more specifics. It’s gotten so that rather than the Rumford Charter being a guide, it’s been amended to the point where it ties everybody’s hands just to do business. 

“There’s a basic function to take care of a town: We have police, we have firefighters, we have roads to take care of and we provide services to the town. The charter is just supposed to guide us. It’s not supposed to be a document that prevents everybody from dealing with reality. It should be as simple and clear as possible without a whole lot of rules.”

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