LEWISTON — An effort to clean up the city’s citizen petition process picked up City Council support on its first reading Tuesday.

City Clerk Kathy Montejo said the proposed ordinance creates a 10-business-day deadline for petition backers to collect 10 signatures in City Hall on the petition application.

“That one step does not have a time frame connected to it,” Montejo said. “Everything else has a time frame, so they know their deadline, the city has a closing period and everybody has the same understanding.”

Once backers have collected those 10 signatures, they can take the petition public and collect enough signatures to put the question on a city ballot. They have 60 days to complete the petition and collect enough signatures.

Those questions can be a challenge of a city council decision or creation of a new city ordinance.

Councilors approved the proposed change 7-0 Tuesday. They see the ordinance for a second reading at their Dec. 2 meeting.

“It’s happened, occasionally, that one person will come in and start the petition application but the next nine never do,” Montejo said. “So that tells us that this may not be an issue that 10 people in the community care about — just one person does.”

Lewiston had three successful citizen petition efforts in the past year, meaning citizens collected enough signatures to get their question on the ballot before city voters. That includes efforts to create a Lewiston-Auburn Charter Commission this past summer, the marijuana legalization effort and the repeal of the St. Laurent housing development.

“They were all able to get their 10 signatures in a day or two,” Montejo said. “Typically, if it’s an issue that people really are concerned about, they can contact their friends and neighbors and get them to drop by.”

Montejo said the city’s current ordinance allows petition applications to sit for an indefinite time.

“There might be a couple of other topics that may just concern one person, and it just sits in a drawer waiting and waiting,” she said. “So the city doesn’t know if it’s going to move forward and if we can proceed or not.”

It’s happened before, she said.

“Maybe three or four times, one person has started the process and left it sitting,” Montejo said.

Most recent was a petition that would challenge an Oct. 7 city land transfer deal. Councilors agreed to swap land the city owned at 60 Canal St. for property at 159 Lisbon St.

“One person challenged that about a month ago and there has been no action or activity on it since,” Montejo said. “He’s the only signature on it and nobody else has come in. So that’s sort of in limbo.”

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