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The Charter Issue
By Kay Ogrodnik

Table of Contents for this page

Reprinted with permission from the Times Record.

Other Pages in Issues Section

Charter Commission
Curtis Library
Global Warming
Ordinance links
Property Tax
Schools
Skipper's Choice
Sustainability
Waterfront
Wind Farm

Other pages in Charter Section

Amy Haible
Kay Ogrodnik
Gordon Weil

Many reasons to support a charter commission in Harpswell
letters@TimesRecord.Com
02/18/2005
By Kay Ogrodnik, Times Record Contributor

Harpswell will vote at town meeting March 12 on a charter commission, which I support. I am writing to correct Selectman Weil's Jan. 21 commentary, point by point.

1. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. Very few people in Harpswell besides the selectmen think it ain't broke. The selectmen use their position to denounce individual citizens at selectmen's meetings, and to block citizen participation in town government by denying a position on town committees to anyone who takes a different political position from theirs. For example, Selectman Weil has publicly and repeatedly said that he will block anyone who disagrees with him on the number of polling places that should be in town from serving on any committee.

2. Shouldn't we look at restructuring town government even if we end up doing nothing? The voters will elect two-thirds of the members of the charter commission. One-third will be appointed by the selectmen. They will not be paid, so there will be very little expense. They will study all aspects of town government and hold frequent hearings. Weil suggests we have a selectmen- appointed governance committee instead. How can we find out if our government can be improved if we don't have a committee independent of the selectmen?

3. Most towns larger than Harpswell have charters. Why not Harpswell? Most towns the same size as Harpswell have charters also. Weil tells what other towns with charters have done. Harpswell's commission will look at our town and our government. If anyone thinks that Harpswell will do something even remotely like what some other town does, well, then he doesn't know Harpswell.

4. Harpswell does not want to drop the town meeting and has rejected a town manager form of government. Why would it want to be the only municipality in Maine to keep the town meeting, have no manager-type administrator but have a charter? Harpswell should have a charter commission. This independent commission will be a study committee to research ways in which our town government can be improved. A commission might suggest areas that we could improve, and the voters get the final word. I have not met one person who supports a charter commission who wants to drop our town meeting/selectmen form of government.

5. So is this really a rerun of the LNG controversy? Although Weil mentions LNG nine times, I shall not mention it, for it has nothing to do with the charter commission proposal, and supporters of the charter commission come from both sides of last year's debate. We respect one another, work well together and there is not a sore loser among us. The charter issue was narrowly defeated in an advisory referendum in 2003. Many voters want to look at the question again. An independent committee studying town government consulting with the voters at frequent hearings will give us not stress, but hope that needed improvements in town government can be made.

6. Isn't it time for Harpswell to have home rule? A charter commission is the best way for the voters to become informed on home rule issues.

7. Doesn't home rule through a charter mean the Legislature can't touch Harpswell? A charter does secure home rule for a town. But there are some areas that are reserved for the state Legislature.

8. How does a charter compare with other ways of changing town government? If Harpswell decides to have a charter commission, it will not be separate from town government. It will be town government. A charter commission is not a nongovernmental organization. Its democratically elected members function as a part of local government. Through thorough research and many hearings for public input, the committee may propose a charter. The voters will decide on the final document.

The alternative is to continue to stumble along willy-nilly with a hodgepodge of directives from the state (many of which apply only to towns without a charter), a patchwork of ordinances to fix up the old town and policies which constantly change as the selectmen see fit. If the commission recommends a charter, it will include fair and democratic ways of amending it should that be necessary, such as a majority vote at town meeting.

9. Couldn't a charter be a useful guide to town government for newcomers to Harpswell? Yes. And it could be a useful guide to old-timers as well. A charter will be to the town what the Constitution is to the country, a concise document that spells out the principles by which we propose to govern ourselves.

10. Besides, Harpswell already has a charter. It's just not written. Weil looks longingly back at the days of British colonization of Harpswell and the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom. At the Oct. 7 selectmen's meeting he reported that he had told some British visitors, "We are still doing what the king told us to do." (That would be George III who was the subject of colonial ire and who was the despot thrown off by our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence.)

Let's have a charter commission to map out for Harpswell's government the road to the 21st century and the United States of America.

Kay Ogrodnik lives in Harpswell.
 

 

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Last edited on 01/07/2010