AUBURN — The City Council on Monday began the process to update Auburn’s City Charter, a review that must take place once every 15 years.

The council, opting to conduct a simpler committee review process rather than forming an official charter commission, laid out several potential changes Monday, including initiating staggered terms for elected officials.

However, city officials emphasized that it was just the start of a lengthy process that must end with voter approval sometime next year.

The council spent roughly three hours Monday reading through each section of the charter and proposing potential changes, ranging from the city’s official slogan to the annual budget process and term limits.

City administration, following a legal review in 2014, said the charter language could be interpreted that the council, acting as a review committee, could review the charter itself and propose amendments.

During a 2019 council discussion, Mayor Jason Levesque supported the ad hoc review committee, arguing that establishing an official Charter Commission would leave the door open to wholesale changes in the structure of Auburn’s government. At the time, the council decided to leave that decision up to the next City Council.

The charter was last updated in 2005, but the charter commission at that time decided not to address staggered terms for elected officials.

All elected positions in Auburn are up for re-election at the same time every two years. Initiating staggered terms, on the City Council for example, would allow for roughly half of councilors to remain on the council during an election year, thus eliminating the chance for an entirely new council every two years.

In 2019, five of seven seats on the council saw turnover.

In a nonbinding vote Monday, a majority of the council favored looking into staggered terms and how other municipalities have instituted the change.

“I think it’s valuable to have staggered terms,” said Councilor Katie Boss, adding that previous concerns about holding elections every year shouldn’t stop the city from considering them. “We are voting every year regardless.”

During a 2013 discussion on the previous commission’s decision, former Mayor Richard Trafton said initiating staggered terms would have meant terms of up to four years for councilors, or elections every year.

Councilors Boss, Brian Carrier, Tim MacLeod, and Holly Lasagna supported directing staff to look at what other municipalities have done to stagger terms.

“I think it’s going to be a tough sell,” Councilor Leroy Walker said.

MacLeod also forwarded a proposal to add term limits of six consecutive years, or three, two-year terms, in the same office.

The measure also received the backing of the majority of councilors, but Walker, who has served five consecutive terms in Ward 5, disagreed with the limits. Councilor Lasagna also disagreed, stating, “I think it’s up to the people in the ward to decide, it’s local politics.”

City Manager Phil Crowell said Monday that each proposal would be reviewed by the city’s legal counsel, who will also be on hand during the next review meeting next week. The council will ultimately have to approve the proposed amendments before sending them along to voters.

Crowell said language on term limits won’t see a legal review until after the language on staggered terms is decided.

Also discussed Monday was compensation for elected officials (the last time it was increased was 2006), authorizing remote meetings in the event of a citywide emergency, and the idea of passing a biannual budget like the system used in state government.

Councilor Carrier, who serves as the council’s representative on the School Committee, also proposed crafting language that would require the School Committee “to work under the same rules as we do” during budget season, including a clearer “budget message” at the start of each season. However, the council did not agree to specifics Monday.

Levesque said public comment will be taken during next week’s review.


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