LEWISTON — Next week, voters will have the final say on several proposed amendments to Lewiston’s City Charter, including staggered two-year terms for elected officials.

The proposed amendments were selected after a committee, led by former longtime City Administrator Ed Barrett, conducted a review of the charter and the City Council forwarded the changes to voters.

A screenshot of Lewiston’s sample ballot for the Nov. 2 municipal election shows several charter amendment questions alongside races for mayor and City Council.

The Nov. 2 municipal ballot will feature nine questions alongside the races for mayor, City Council and School Committee. When the votes are tallied, Lewiston could have several changes at hand, including the long-debated shift to staggered terms, new rules on how temporary committees are formed, and a new provision for removing elected officials from office.

Leading up to Election Day, City Clerk Kathy Montejo said she’s been hearing a lot of questions from residents over the proposed amendments.

Given the lengthy nature of the questions, and how they appear on the Nov. 2 ballot, the Sun Journal broke down the nine amendments.

Amendment 1: Adding a preamble

This would simply add a preamble — or introduction stating the underlying values of Lewiston city government — into the opening of the charter. According to the proposed language, the values include the pursuit of the common good, equal opportunity, and representative democracy.

“The preamble should serve as a reminder of what local government is all about and how it should operate,” Barrett said.

Amendment 2: Two-year staggered terms for elected officials

Perhaps the most high-profile change, this would shift the current system that elects all seats for mayor, City Council and School Committee during the same election every two years, and replace it with annual elections, where only half the seats are up for election.

If approved, the mayor, three councilors, and four School Committee members would be elected in one year, and four councilors, the at-large School Committee member, and three other School Committee members would be elected in the alternate year.

During the charter review process, committee members argued that the current system leads to significant turnover in a majority of elections.

“Such a high level of turnover can disrupt the continuity of municipal and school governance and weaken the essential role of elected officials in pursuing consistent policies and goals and overseeing the city’s administration,” Barrett said.

Amendment 3: Ad hoc committee creation and appointment

This amendment would clarify the process for creating and appointing ad hoc committees by specifying that they can be created by either the mayor or the City Council.

According to Barrett, there has been confusion over whether the mayor has the sole authority on ad hoc advisory committees, or whether the council can also create them and approve appointments.

An ad hoc committee is generally a temporary committee to address an urgent or burgeoning issue facing the community.

Under the amendment, “the mayor would retain sole authority to appoint members to committees the mayor creates, but would be required to consult with and offer councilors the opportunity to comment on appointments to council-created committees prior to the mayor making them.”

Amendment 4: Elected and appointed official forfeiture of or removal from office

This would add an “enforcement” provision for removing an elected official from office, allowing the City Council or School Committee to hold hearings regarding accusations against officials that may justify removing them from office.

Currently, the charter states officials forfeit their seat if convicted of a felony, offense of a sexual nature or a false statement while in office, but members of the review committee argued the standard is too limiting. The amendment would broaden the standard to include “a crime of moral turpitude.”

The enforcement provision would allow either the City Council or the School Committee to hold “a hearing where the accused would have the right to appear and at which witnesses and testimony could be taken.” Following the hearing, the individual could only be removed from office with a supermajority of five affirmative votes.

Amendment 5: Planning Board and Board of Appeals

This amendment would give the City Council the authority to approve mayoral appointments to the Planning Board, and would cut terms on the Planning Board and Board of Appeals from five to three years.

Under the existing charter, the mayor has the sole authority to appoint members to the Planning Board. However, the review committee found that, due to the board’s role in regulating growth and development, “it is important that it be widely representative of the community.”

“To strengthen the likelihood of such broad representation, this amendment would require that the mayor’s appointees to the Planning Board be confirmed by the City Council,” Barrett said.

The committee also found that five-year terms “may be too long given how quickly an individual’s circumstances can change,” cutting terms on both boards to three years.

Amendment 6: School budget process

This would update charter language regarding the school budget process to bring it in line with state law.

According to Barrett, the charter was adopted prior to numerous changes in state law, including the now-required school budget validation referendum.

“As a result, many of these provisions have been superseded by state law,” he said. “The continued presence of no-longer-applicable charter provisions can and does create confusion among city officials and the public.”

The amendment would also simplify how the municipal budget would be enacted if the council does not meet the charter’s deadlines, and allows for the city and school budgets to be adopted at separate times.

Amendment 7: Budget expenditure limit

This would replace a tool used by city officials to set limits on annual budget increases.

Currently, annual expenditure increases in Lewiston are limited by the increase in the “Gross Domestic Product Implicit Price Deflator,” a measure produced by the U.S. Federal Reserve. According to Barrett, this standard is confusing “because few elected or appointed officials or members of the public know what the GDP-IPD is and what it measures.” It’s also a national standard that may not reflect conditions in Maine or New England, he said.

The amendment would replace the GDP-IPD with the Consumer Price Index Urban Northeast, “a measure of the actual cost of goods and services in our region.”

Amendment 8: Minor technical changes

This covers a number of smaller changes, including one that clarifies that a city or school department employee can not serve as an elected official on either the City Council or School Committee. Currently, school employees and the School Committee are not specifically mentioned in this section, “creating potential confusion for those unaware of how it has actually been applied.”

The amendment also adjusts the timeline for issuing and filing nomination papers to run for office, giving the City Clerk more time to prepare the necessary ballots. According to Barrett, it does not change the amount of time allowed for circulating petitions, it simply moves the start and filing dates back about two weeks.

Amendment 9: Elimination of antiquated provisions

A number of charter provisions have become antiquated and no longer apply, the review committee said. This amendment would eliminate them.

The list includes a provision requiring that the council adopt a “personnel ordinance,” which has since been replaced by the city’s collective bargaining agreements and a set of personnel policies adopted by council order, making them easier to revise and update.

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