LEWISTON — Voters will no longer have the chance to weigh in on establishing a Charter Commission this year, after the City Council repealed the ballot item Tuesday.

In a split vote, the majority of the council said the work of a previous charter review committee, which suggested nine amendments approved by voters in November, was sufficient in updating the 42-year-old document. However, those in favor of a full Charter Commission argue that larger changes are past due, and that the effort should include the input of a more diverse  public.

If approved by voters this June, Charter Commission members would have been elected in November, starting a two-year process to update the document that guides city government.

Several on the council said they don’t see the need for a full commission, arguing that the city should allow last year’s updates to be implemented and tested before moving on.

Councilor Robert McCarthy said in November that he “heard over and over” from voters at the polls confused about the nine charter amendments, stating even he “was unaware until I saw them on the ballot.” Nine amendments, including instituting staggered terms, went into effect this year.

Councilor Lee Clement said it was “asinine” to “ask people if they’d like to redo the whole thing” only six months after amendments were made.

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“Let’s give it a chance to prove itself,” he said.

However, compared to the charter review, which is limited in scope, a full Charter Commission allows for any aspect of the charter to be changed.

Former Councilor Luke Jensen, who spoke during public comment Tuesday, has been adamant since his term on the council that a full commission is needed.

Jensen said the charter is outdated, severely flawed and lacks the “structural mechanisms for officials to work in.” He said it leads to friction between elected officials and city staff, even if both parties are well-meaning.

“It’s chaos. It’s anarchy,” he said in an email to the Sun Journal, adding that even simple items like getting an item considered on an agenda aren’t clear. He told the council that it was ultimately what led him to resign last year.

Jensen on Tuesday asked the council to consider tabling the vote in order to allow the public to weigh in.

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Former Councilor Alicia Rea, who also voted to send the question to voters last year, said Tuesday that the charter review process was conducted during a pandemic, and that its membership was chosen by the mayor, not the broader community. It didn’t include anyone under the age of 40, she said, or any diversity.

Lewiston resident Matt Roy said councilors Tuesday were “proposing you know better than the city that elected you, and you’ve been in office two weeks.”

The council voted 4-3 to repeal the Charter Commission vote, with Councilors Linda Scott, Scott Harriman and Stephanie Gelinas opposed. A motion to table the decision to Feb. 1 was ultimately unsuccessful.

Mayor Carl Sheline said he supported tabling the vote to garner more public feedback, stating he was wary of “deliberately undoing” something the previous council recently decided.

Jensen told the Sun Journal that when he was on the council, he and several others “expressed a desire to create a charter commission in addition to the review committee because there were changes we wanted that could only happen with a commission.” That included the addition of an at-large councilor position, he said.

“The fact is, a charter review committee that is selected by the mayor and not even confirmed by the council should not be the sole determinants of Lewiston’s fate for the next 10 years,” he said.

He said he understands why folks may be apprehensive about a Charter Commission.

“They’re worried that opening the door for change could lead to a worse system. They consider it a roll of the dice,” he said. “Still, the voters of Lewiston will decide the members of the commission just as they do the City Council. Why can Lewiston voters be trusted to elect a council but not a Charter Commission? Lewiston voters aren’t stupid, they will elect the right people to the commission and that commission will get something the people of Lewiston want and deserve. The fear of a worse system seems silly while the current system is so broken.”

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