DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A citizens petition, which seeks to amend the newly established town charter to require election of the town clerk and town manager, is a revision and not an amendment, selectmen ruled Monday.
That means if the more than 400 registered voters who signed the citizens petition want to proceed with the revision process, they must sign another petition to form a charter commission.
While it was Town Attorney Erik Stumpfel’s opinion that the petition was an amendment that should be presented for action at the next municipal election, a Maine Municipal Association attorney said it was a revision. A third legal opinion that was sought from a Portland law firm agreed with MMA.
But having the majority of selectmen disregard Stumpfel’s opinion did not sit well with Selectman Joyce Perry, who voted to support the amendment, or with petition organizers.
“Does our attorney have any clout?” Richard Stites, a petition organizer, asked Monday.
According to Stites, the petition signers want selectmen to screen candidates for both positions and present the finalists to residents for a secret ballot vote. Nothing else would change, he said.
“All we’re doing is an attempt to bring democracy to the folks,” Donald Benjamin, co-organizer of the petition drive, said Monday. He reminded the board that there have been 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, but that it has never been “revised.”
Stites noted the legal opinion from the Portland attorney included recall language that was not applicable to the amendment request. He also noted the attorney based his opinion on a Michigan case.
“Why take an opinion in Michigan over home rule and the constitution of the state?” Stites asked.
Selectman Brian Mullis said he did not want to deny voters the democratic process but from the information provided by the two attorneys, the petition constituted a revision. He suggested that if residents want to go the revision route, they should petition the town to form a charter commission.
The Portland and MMA attorneys noted that the change would prompt a shift in power that would result in a revision of the charter, Selectman Cynthia Freeman Cyr said. “It’s not about whether we think it’s a good idea or a bad idea,” she said.
“I think it’s a frivolous idea,” Sue Mackey-Andrews, a former charter commission member, said Monday. She said she didn’t want the town to spend anymore money on the issue. She said the request to appoint a town manager had been studied by the commission, which had decided not to pursue the change.