Guest Post: Voting Yes on the Charter for November, by Ben Tettlebaum
On November 8, New Gloucester voters can make history. For the first time, we have a Charter – like a constitution for our Town – that you, the voters, can approve. I am asking you to vote YES.
If you’ve followed the charter process, you know it was not an easy path. It took two elections over several years for the Town to approve simply forming a Charter Commission. Then, it took the nine-person Charter Commission, which I chaired, 14 months, 29 meetings, and nearly a thousand hours to produce the Charter. All told, from the very first organizing step to the upcoming November election, at least five years elapsed.
The Charter is not perfect. No one got close to everything they wanted. Some say it changes too much; others say it doesn’t go far enough. I acknowledge and understand those concerns. The final product is a compromise. And that is precisely why I feel comfortable urging everyone – whether you wanted to completely reconstitute our form of government or never wanted a charter in the first place – to vote YES on the Charter in November.
Let me highlight a few important elements of the Charter:
Requires Town governance to be open, inclusive, and accessible, and requires robust public engagement.
Requires another Charter Commission to review/revise/amend the Charter in five years – no matter what and with no initial vote needed to determine whether to form a Charter Commission – and regular review of the Charter every ten years.
Establishes a clear recall process.
Maintains the Town Meeting-Select Board-Town Manager form of government – what the majority of charter survey respondents expressed they wanted – but all ordinances, items over $625,000, and bonds and loans can go to a ballot election vote after being deliberated at Town Meeting. Is this exactly what everyone wanted? No. But it is a middle road that preserves Town Meeting while providing a vote on these important items at an election.
Imposes term limits on Select Board Members of no more than three consecutive three-year terms with a two-year break before running again. Some wanted no term limits; others wanted a longer required break after service. Again, it’s a healthy compromise.
Restricts more than two family members from serving on the same board or committee (excluding Select Board). Some wanted no restrictions; some wanted no family members to be able to serve together. A healthy compromise.
Requires the Select Board to create a fair and transparent board and committee application and nomination process.
Allows anyone to serve on most boards and committees if the Select Board waives certain requirements.
Requires compilation and maintenance of an administrative code – meaning all ordinances and policies will be organized in an easy-to-find, digital location.
Provides a straightforward process for the Select Board to adopt emergency ordinances.
Allows a Town department to continue with funding for a limited time should that line item be voted down at Town Meeting.
Imposes no limits on the Town Manager greater than our Town’s current practice.
If you’re wavering on whether to vote YES on the Charter, consider this.
Without a charter, the Town cannot change our form of government and cannot change the composition, election, or terms of the Select Board. Even if you’re not in favor of such changes, shouldn’t our Town have the flexibility that strong local control provides?
Finally, I acknowledge the elephant (and donkey) in the room. Partisanship has infused every level of interaction today, down to local decisions and our nonpartisan local elections. Robust dialogue is essential hygiene for a healthy republic. But if we can’t even talk to those with whom we disagree, it’s a dark day for democracy.
The nine Charter Commission Members were as far apart on some issues as you could imagine. Yet, we decided that our decisions would be based on consensus. And, amazingly, in this political climate – they were. The Charter Commission voted unanimously in favor of the Charter. We got there through vigorous yet respectful debate, long hours, and compromise – sadly, that’s become a dirty word today, but it shouldn’t be. Our process represented the ideals of our country’s grand experiment in a democratic republic. The Charter takes a step forward for our Town – an incremental one for sure – but a foundational step nonetheless.
If the Charter fails in November, we’re back to square one – no foundational Charter; no chance to improve upon what we’ve built. But if it passes, in five short years, we’ll have yet another chance to form a more perfect Charter.
Former Chair, New Gloucester Charter Commission
*This is a guest post by Ben Tettlebaum. The views expressed are those of Ben Tettlebaum, and not endorsed by the New Gloucester GOP. The New Gloucester GOP supports the right of individuals to submit guest blog posts freely, and without censorship. If you are interested in sharing an article, or post please send all submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org
**This opinion piece was also featured in the NGXchange, and Ben submitted this to the NGGOP on 10/20/2022