AUBURN — Twin Cities officials seem poised to turn down aid from Gov. Paul LePage that could help pay for drafting a combined cities charter.

Auburn councilors split 3-3 Monday night on a last-minute resolution that would have pledged their support for the Lewiston-Auburn Charter Commission’s work.

The tie vote effectively defeated the resolution — for the moment.

The Charter Commission needs the respective City Councils to support that resolution to qualify for a promise of matching money from the governor.

“We are not asking them to support any conclusions,” Charter Commission Chairman Gene Geiger said. “That would be crazy, because there is not enough substance for us to even ask for support, when we don’t have our ducks lined up and justifications distilled. This is primarily to respond to the governor’s offer.”

Geiger said Charter Commissioner Holly Lasagna and supporter Dick Gleason met with LePage last month to discuss the charter commission’s work.

“We have not spent any money yet but we will need help, legally and otherwise, to figure things out and put a good charter before the voters,” Geiger said. “We asked the governor, ‘What do you think?'”

Geiger said LePage offered to match locally raised money, up to $50,000.

“But there was a proviso: He wanted to see that the city councils are supporting the process,” Geiger said. “He did not ask them to take a position in favor of consolidation, but rather to support the work and the process the commission is trying to do.”

The group drafted a resolve for both city councils that met the governor’s criteria, Geiger said. He and Commissioner Chip Morrison presented it to Auburn councilors Monday night, and Morrison said he plans to present it to Lewiston councilors at their June 9 workshop.

Morrison said the resolution was championed by Auburn councilors Mary Lafontaine and Robert Hayes, and Hayes was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Councilor Belinda Gerry, who said she does not support any effort to combine the Twin Cities, moved to put it to a vote Monday night in an effort to kill it.

Councilor Adam Lee, who does support the process, said he would vote against the resolve Monday so that he could bring it back for a second vote June 15, when Hayes could be present.

Roberts Rules of Order, the guide of meeting etiquette, allows a councilor on the prevailing side of a vote — in this case, the no votes — to bring a matter back for future consideration.

Mayor Jonathan LaBonte declined to break the tie Monday night, letting the resolution fail. LaBonte said Monday’s vote was an instance of Charter Commission members and their City Council supporters playing politics, counting votes and losing.

“If Chip and the others are not going to admit that they crafted this resolve without public discourse and that they were counting votes, I’m not sure anyone is going to buy that,” LaBonte said.

LaBonte noted that community members said they would lead a petition drive to kill the resolution once and for all if Lee attempts to bring it back.

Councilor Leroy Walker, who voted to support the resolution, said he opposed it because it did not guarantee the governor would provide any aid. Walker also said he feared that Auburn taxpayers would ultimately be asked to pay for the Charter Commission’s work.

Morrison said that’s not true. The group has raised $14,000 so far from residents and local businesses and has commitments for another $10,000.

“We have never asked either city for money,” Morrison said. “Nor will there be any request, from me. I think I’d probably resign from the Charter Commission if it came to that.”

Morrison said he was frustrated by the council’s maneuvering.

“It should not be an inquisition to go to your public body and ask for something, for me or for anybody else,” Morrison said. “I feel filthy over this. We were trying to save local people money and push forward the governor’s own agenda of reorganizing local government.”

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