LEWISTON — A final report from the city’s Charter Review Committee unanimously supports moving to staggered terms for elected officials, and suggests making the change could be easier than previously thought.

In early August, the City Council will review the committee’s final report, which was completed over the past five months. Lewiston’s charter calls for a review every 10 years.

By June, it became clear that the committee, led by former longtime City Administrator Ed Barrett, was in favor of staggered terms and other changes that could require an elected Charter Commission.

However, the group’s report released Thursday states that a recent court opinion appears to, “broaden the scope of what we initially believed could be included in (a charter) amendment.”

The report added that after initial discussions with the city attorney, it appeared that any system of staggered terms would trigger the need for a charter revision, which must be developed by a formal Charter Commission.

As the committee was developing its recommendations, the Maine Law Court issued an opinion in the “Fair Elections Portland” case that, according to the report, “provided greater clarity to the definitions of amendment and revision.”

“In discussing this with the city attorney, it appears that the council may submit a charter amendment adopting staggered terms, so long as that change is somewhat limited in its scope,” the report states.

In order to make that happen, the council would likely have to choose from two options discussed by the Charter Review Committee.

Lewiston holds municipal elections every two years in which every seat is up for election, leaving the possibility of an entirely new slate of officials with every new cycle.

One would move Lewiston to annual elections while retaining the current two-year terms; a second retains the biennial elections but increases term length to four years.

A third option — expanding the full voting membership of the council to nine, moving to three-year terms, and electing one-third of the council annually — was preferred by the review committee, but would likely trigger the need for a Charter Commission.

The report states that of the two options, the committee favored annual elections for staggered two-year terms, because it “most closely aligns with the city’s current structure and practices.”

“However, with some discomfort over extending terms to four years, the committee concluded that either option would be preferable to the current system and would defer to the (City Council’s) preference,” the report said.

An elected Charter Commission process, like the one playing out in Portland, requires a referendum to establish, then requires a separate election for commission members.

A Charter Commission is also not bound to recommendations made by either the Charter Review Committee or city officials, and could lead to wholesale changes for a city’s government structure.

In a previous memo to the council, Barrett said the two-year election cycle in recent years “has led to significant turnover on the council, raising concerns regarding continuity and the potential for a largely newly elected governing body facing the challenge of the annual budget process shortly after taking office. Moving to staggered council terms will address these concerns and ensure that a solid base of experience remains on the council after each election.”

So far this year, only two councilors have taken out nomination papers for re-election this November.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: