AUBURN — Those hoping for staggered terms or term limits for city councilors in Auburn will have to wait at least another 15 years.

During the conclusion of the City Council’s review of the city charter Monday, officials removed a proposal from consideration that would have instituted staggered terms and term limits for councilors.

The decision came after city attorney Michael Malloy said the proposal would change the fundamental structure of the council, and would meet the definition of a “substantial change” to the charter, which requires a full charter commission.

Earlier this year the council opted to use an ad hoc review committee made up of the current council to conduct the charter review that takes place once every 15 years, rather than establish an official charter commission.

The review committee is limited in the revisions it can put forth while a charter commission could propose wholesale changes in the structure of Auburn’s government. Both options result in Auburn voters having the ultimate say, but an ad hoc review is bound to proposals that are not considered “substantive changes” to city government.

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.

A proposal discussed by the council Monday would have seen three councilors and the mayor elected to one-year terms in 2021, with the other three councilors, along with the mayor again, elected for three-year terms in 2022. Each election thereafter would be for three-year terms.

While the council debated the merits of such a move Monday, Malloy argued that shifting term lengths or adding term limits would “absolutely be a fundamental change, and would require a charter commission.”

“I don’t see any situation where you start changing term lengths where I would be comfortable giving an opinion that it doesn’t require a charter commission,” he said.

Based on Malloy’s opinions Monday, the council’s review of the charter appears more limited than previously thought by several officials, including Mayor Jason Levesque.

At one point, Levesque said, “Why are we even here discussing a charter review if nothing we propose can make it through the charter review process.”

Levesque was referring to a proposal that he forwarded on adding limitations on the official use of the city name and logo without City Council approval, and a separate proposal that no language can be included in a referendum question that mandates a minimum or maximum time the ordinance, if passed, has to remain law in the city.

Levesque has said the latter proposal was inspired by the city of Portland, where the City Council cannot repeal or amend any of the newly passed ordinances tied to referendums for at least five years, unless done through another citywide referendum.

Malloy said there’s not a lot of case law in Maine for what meets a “substantive” change, making a gray area between a revision and an amendment. He said a revision, through a charter review committee, is more of a “correction to better accomplish the purpose” of a section already in the charter, while an amendment is something that shifts the structure of the government.

City Manager Phil Crowell said a final workshop on the proposed charter revisions will be held Dec. 21, and will be voted on by the council in January. It would then go to voters.

The city has created an online hub for the charter discussion, he said, with a breakdown of the charter sections and any proposed changes.

MASK ON

Also on Monday, Councilor Stephen Milks was required to wear a face covering after he initially protested the new council requirement for masking during all meetings.

Milks was one of the most outspoken against a mask requirement during council meetings in previous weeks, but eventually relented after Mayor Jason Levesque told him he could either wear a mask or join the meeting remotely.

Milks said he would wear a face covering “under protest,” after stating that his position “is not about the mask, it’s about the people.”

Two weeks ago, the council voted 4-3 in favor of the requirement, with councilors Milks, Belinda Gerry and Leroy Walker voting against. Gerry and Walker were also not wearing face coverings Monday, and it is unclear whether they met a medical exemption that is allowed in the ordinance.

Throughout the pandemic, as Auburn returned to in-person meetings while many other municipalities remained remote, only a few of councilors wore masks during meetings.

The order was introduced by Councilor Katie Boss after coronavirus cases have surged in Maine, including in Androscoggin County, which has seen a number of recent outbreaks and school closures.


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