AUBURN — Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett urged the Androscoggin County commissioners at their workshop Wednesday evening to meet with the county Budget Committee to see if an agreement can be reached on a protocol before they start on this year’s county budget.

Barrett spoke concerning the county charter and the role of the Budget Committee in the budgeting process.

The interpretation of the county charter has been a hot topic ever since the commissioners clashed late last year with the Budget Committee over its role, and whether the committee is an advisory group or has the power to adopt and approve the budget.

“In the next budget cycle, I think the municipalities would like to know that there was some protocol that was in place on an interim basis that says this is how this is going to work in the coming year,” Barrett said.

“We have to find out what is the role of the Budget Committee before the next Budget Committee starts,” said Andrew Titus, a member of the committee. “Maybe we have to pay for an attorney to have it done so when we go back in October to deliberate, we will know where we stand.”

Barrett laid out his research, which showed that more than one copy of the charter was being circulated during its adoption.


Commissioner Elaine Makas admitted frustration that the different versions were not dated, making it hard to know which was being discussed.

According to Barrett, municipalities believed the committee had the final authority on the budget, which was listed on early copies of the charter and was not changed on many of the later versions.

The county approached the Maine Legislature to help fix some of the language in the charter.

During the sometimes-heated discussion, commissioners and committee members said they felt disrespected during the budget process and that there were misunderstandings on both sides.

“What I’ve heard so far right now, we have a huge divide,” Titus said. “I feel the divide between the Budget Committee and this (commission) is too wide to even think about the future.”

A lot of discussion centered on determining when the commissioners received the legal opinion from their attorney, Bryan Dench, that said the committee’s role was advisory.


Commission Chairwoman Beth Bell said it was well before the discussion of last year’s budget, but both Barrett and members of the Budget Committee said the first time they saw that opinion was after the budget controversy.

“The first time we heard ‘advisory’ was after everything hit the fan,” Barrett said.

Bell was passionate in her defense of commissioners. “We told everyone over and over and over,” she said. “Once the charter passed, it was our responsibility to seek legal counsel from our attorney, who’s been doing county government for 30-plus years, and that’s what we did. That was our responsible first step. We were told and clarified that it was advisory. Nobody wants to talk about that. And it’s getting old.

“The whole point of speaking to an attorney for clarification is because we knew that the wrong charter passed and it was a disaster,” she said. “Mr. Dench spent his time because the charter that passed was not the correct document, and it was a disaster. The commissioners were left with the disaster. And nobody wants to talk about what we were handed and what we have worked hard to resolve in the best way possible with the advice of our attorney.”

Barrett said the municipal officials take issue with that because the change by the Legislature “is not reflective in the documents that we saw or the information that was provided before the election” and the intent by members of the Charter Commission.

“You clearly have one view,” Barrett said. “I have talked to other people who are 180 degrees on the opposite view.”

Both sides agreed it was in everyone’s interest to come up with a solution before the county budget process starts later this year.

“Even if we don’t have all the problems of the charter ironed out, it would be good to have a working agreement before we start in on the budget process,” Commissioner Sally Christner said.

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