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The Charter Issue
Times Record Op-Ed

Republished with permission of the Times Record

Many reasons for charter commission
It can never hurt to try to improve government
By Amy Haible, Times Record Contributor

Gordon Weil's Jan. 21 op-ed, "Many reasons to oppose town charter for Harpswell," clearly missed the mark. Not only is it factually incorrect about why a charter commission effort began, it overtly suggests that only the selectmen know what's best.

At the March 2004 town meeting, Harpswell citizens voted in support of a five-member board. Several months later, on Aug. 19, the selectmen decided publicly to ignore that vote. Only after the charter commission petition was circulated in response to this blatant action did the selectmen reverse their decision to ignore the voters and take up the issue again.

Nov. 4, a petition to place the formation of a charter commission on the March 2005 town meeting warrant was turned in with 750 signatures. Two weeks later, the selectmen revisited the five-member selectmen issue.

Mr. Weil calls the charter commission "an unnecessary cost and distraction." Since when is trying to make town government more efficient, accessible and democratic a distraction? For a minimal amount, and using the time and energy of volunteers, Harpswell certainly can afford to take a look at its town government.

Let's be clear. A charter commission will consist of a group of publically elected Harpswell citizens who meet, in public, for about a year. Their sole mission will be to look for ways to improve how local government works, and that includes keeping the things that do work. Once the commission completes its work, if voters do not like what it come up with, they can vote it down. It's as simple as that.

Mr. Weil says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," presenting even more reason for a charter commission. A look under the hood to see if some preventive maintenance is warranted is better than waiting for something serious to break down. If local government is working well, then a charter commission will be sure to protect what works by including it in the proposed charter. Most Harpswell residents want to keep our town meeting. A charter will secure and protect our form of government, if the voters approve one.

What Mr. Weil really seems to want is to maintain control. He wants to appoint a governance committee "if needed." How is it decided if one is needed? Do we as voters have any say in that? And as we know too well, a selectmen-appointed governance committee simply will function at the whim of the selectmen.

Weil says a charter commission will be "independent of local government." Since when is a group of our fellow citizens who are freely elected by their peers to accomplish the task of improving how they are governed independent of town government? Instead, it resides at the heart of it.

It's pretty hard to find anything negative about a charter commission for Harpswell. It will be open to any Harpswell citizen, its job will be clearly defined and there will be a time limit on what it can do. It won't need to cost a lot of money and, most important of all, it can never hurt to look at ways to improve our government.

A positive, forward-looking and pro-active approach to looking at our form of government now that sounds like democracy to me.

Amy Haible lives in Harpswell.


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Last edited on 01/07/2010