By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
As mayor of the All-America City of Lewiston, it has been my goal to have the Lewiston City Charter reviewed. The current City Charter took effect on January 7, 1980. Certainly, this charter was a vast improvement over its predecessor, the 1939 Charter.
I am a firm believer that such a governing document should be periodically reviewed to see if it needs some tweaking with minor changes or the creation of a full charter commission in order to make some more substantial changes.
At the August 16, 2011 City Council meeting, the council unanimously voted for a resolve establishing a City Charter Review Committee. The purpose is for the committee to undertake a comprehensive review of the charter and to recommend to the City Council amendments to the charter designed to improve the operations of city government or to recommend to the City Council whether a Charter Commission should be elected to undertake more substantive revisions to the charter that might alter the basic structure or form of city government.
The committee is charged with submitting a report to the City Council on or before November 15, 2011. Its first meeting will be September 22, 2011.
The committee will solicit public comments on possible charter changes through whatever mechanisms the committee will see fit. They will hold at least one public hearing. Their meetings will all be open to the public.
With some recommendations from City Councilors, I have appointed the following members to serve on the committee: Aaron Burke, retired Lewiston teacher; Ron Farris, who works for the Finance Authority of Maine as a financial analyst and who previously served on the Citizens Commission for L-A Cooperation; Anthony Ferguson, attorney for Fales & Fales and who also served on the Citizens Commission for L-A Cooperation; Lucien B. Gosselin, president of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council and was Lewiston’s first city administrator; Lionel C. Guay Jr., former mayor of Lewiston; Paul Robinson, retired as program contracts manager for The Boeing Company; Denis Jean, retired Lewiston human resources director.
The committee will receive staff support by City Administrator Edward A. Barrett.
Some of the changes the committee may deal with are such things as the procedure for adopting city ordinances, the length of terms of office for various city committees, compensation for some of those committees, gender references, the requirements for the number of city council meetings and the notification of when special meetings are called, the public notices of meetings to the public. These are some of the minor changes that the committee may wish to recommend.
Some more substantive changes could be recommended such as staggered terms of office. Term limits may be looked at as well for both mayor and city councilor. The committee may also wish to look at a process to recall the mayor and city council members. They may also wish to address the functions and duties of a mayor.
The committee may also recommend periodic review of the charter such as perhaps every 10 years in order to stay abreast of changes that may occur over time. Thirty-one years ago, we didn’t have the Internet to use as a tool for city government. It is important to stay current and that the governing document remains as current as possible in order to govern effectively and efficiently.
Having served as mayor with City Councils over the past five years that I’ve held office, I believe that a review of the powers and duties of a mayor is warranted.
I wish to share my experience of serving as a mayor with such limited power as to simply break a tie of a city council vote. That has occurred only three times in my five years in office. Now, to seek office, I participated in two debates with my opponents. None of the city councilors during that entire period has ever participated in a debate. They are the ones with voting power, yet it is those seeking the mayor’s office who are called upon to debate. It doesn’t seem to make sense to me.
A mayoral candidate is required to present to the city clerk twice the number of signatures than a candidate for city council, yet city councilors are the ones with the power to establish orders, resolves and ordinances.
I believe that the general feeling of the public is that they believe that a mayor has far more power than he/she may have. The mayor is simply the ceremonial head of the city.
Given the above, should a mayor be more than a ceremonial head of the city? If the answer is yes, then should the mayor not have a vote but have veto power, which would require a super majority of the council votes to override the veto? Should the mayor have a vote?
If the mayor was to have a vote and the vote ends in a tie, should the side that the mayor voted on be the prevailing side? Should a mayor be afforded the duty of providing a check and balance?
With a city administrator form of government, all employees ultimately come under his/her authority to hire/fire. Should there be a confirmation process to the city administrators selection of department heads similar to the federal level where the President nominates and the Senate confirms appointments?
Should the city charter provide for more checks and balances in governance of our city?
These are some of the questions that the Charter Review Committee may be looking at.
The committee has its charge, and I look forward to these Lewiston citizens working diligently to offer their best recommendations to the City Council by mid-November. It will then be up to the City Council to accept or reject all or part of their recommendation. Whatever, the outcome, the charter will have received a very thorough inspection.
The current charter has been a vast improvement over the previous one, and it has served us well. Could it serve us better? Only the outcome of the review will provide us with an answer.
We are most fortunate to have citizens who will offer their time and talent during this period in serving our community in this manner. To each and every one of them, we owe a debt of gratitude for answering the call to service.
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.