LEWISTON — The November ballot could feature several charter amendments if approved next week by the City Council.

Officials will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday on several amendments proposed by Lewiston’s Charter Review Committee, which include a shift to staggered terms for elected officials.

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. Soon after the committee began its work this spring, it became clear that a majority favored staggered terms.

The goal of Tuesday’s hearing is to help officials decide how to get there.

One option, if ultimately approved by voters, would keep two-year terms for councilors, but during the 2023 election would use three-year terms for the mayor as well as councilors in Wards 2, 4 and 6. Councilors in Wards 1, 3, 5 and 7 would be elected to two-year terms. Eventually, elections would be held annually to elect councilors in half the wards to two-year terms.

The other option is moving to four-year terms with elections every two years. The options also come with term limits for the mayor: either three consecutive two-year terms, or two consecutive four-year terms.

The public hearing is part of a required process for charter amendments, and if approved by the City Council, the changes will move on to the Nov. 2 municipal election.

According to City Clerk Kathy Montejo, the council Tuesday will take up separate votes on each of the 10 proposed amendments, and decide on which staggered term option is preferred. It’s possible, she said, that the council could choose neither and “maintain the status quo.”

Initially, the committee thought any proposal for staggered terms would trigger the need for a charter revision, which must be developed by a formal elected Charter Commission. However, the committee’s final report states that a recent court opinion appears to “broaden the scope of what we initially believed could be included in (a charter) amendment.”

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.

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.

During a council workshop last week, councilors had a range of opinions on the term options. Several said they liked the idea of four-year terms but are concerned with people being able to make the time commitment.

“Four years is asking quite a bit of people,” Councilor Luke Jensen said.

The proposed amendments also include changes to the committee appointment process, details on removal from office, and the school budget process.

Montejo said amendments approved by the City Council on Tuesday will appear on the November ballot as separate questions.


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