New council moves to update Bangor charter

Posted Nov. 09, 2009, at 10:25 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Nine Bangor city councilors were sharply divided early in the day Monday while electing a new chairman, but by that evening, they quickly got down to business.

The Bangor City Council approved a wide-ranging list of changes to policies, including the creation of a citizen committee to review and recommend changes to the city’s charter, something that hasn’t been updated in 25 years.

“The charter of the city can be compared to a constitution,” said Councilor Hal Wheeler, who pushed for the creation of a charter review committee. “Although it doesn’t specify such broad powers, it is the basis for our city government.”

Each councilor submitted three names for consideration and that list was whittled to six names: Charles Birkel, Mel Braverman, Rick Bruns, Robert Dore, Nelson Durgin and William Sullivan. A seventh member will be added by the end of the week.

Newly elected council Chairman Richard Stone stressed that the charter review committee was not created for any specific reason other than to update a government document that might be out of date.

The council also voted Monday to reduce the size of its subcommittees from five voting members to three, an idea that was pitched by Councilor Susan Hawes. Hawes’ rationale for the change was to promote more discussion among the full council. Each of the four city subcommittees now has five voting members. In unanimous decisions, Hawes said, recommendations are sent to the full City Council with a majority, effectively nullifying the opinions of the other four councilors who don’t serve on a respective committee.

Wheeler agreed with Hawes and said unanimous decisions sent from subcommittees to the full council where like going up against a stacked deck. Councilor Pat Blanchette hoped the change might bring about more transparency.

David Nealley, the only councilor to vote against the change, said he would have been willing to support the change if the finance committee were exempt.

In other news Monday, the council:

— Approved changes to a city ordinance to allow electronic signs to change their messages every 20 seconds. The previous limit, which mirrored state law, allowed changes only every 20 minutes. The request had been brought to the City Council several months ago by a local sign company.

— Made changes to some parking time limits for spaces near John Bapst Memorial High School. The school had been hit hard by the city Police Department’s recent crackdown on parking enforcement, and the city adopted these changes after several weeks of discussions with school officials.

— Finally, the city heard some strong words from a resident who criticized the recent decision to encourage City Manager Ed Barrett to retire before his contract was to expire.

Vaughn Smith, a resident of Bangor for more than 70 years, admitted it took a lot for him to speak to the council in public but, in his opinion, the council erred terribly in its decision.

“I thought the council was to be a forward-thinking body,” he said. “You released the best city manager this city has ever seen.”

Smith’s comments did not draw any response from councilors, who have stood by their decision to part ways with Barrett.

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