Bangor panel would toughen city’s recall process and term-limit rules

Posted July 07, 2010, at 8:44 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine – After six months of review, a resident committee tasked with updating Bangor’s municipal charter has proposed a set of recommendations that includes streamlining the recall process and altering term limit provisions for elected officials.

The nine-page report — the first comprehensive review of the city’s charter in 21 years — is in the hands of the City Council.

“I think our committee did an excellent job. We certainly put in the time,” said Sheila Pechinski, who was chairwoman of the seven-member charter review committee, which also included Charles Birkel, Mel Braverman, William Sullivan, Nelson Durgin, Rick Bruns and Robert Dore.

Councilors are scheduled to review the report and its recommendations at a workshop on Thursday, July 22.

“We will be there to answer any questions they might have or provide research,” Pechinski said.

If the council agrees with any or all of the changes, the revised charter then would need to be approved by voters in November, according to city attorney Norman Heitmann, the city’s staff liaison to the charter review committee.

The group began meeting in December after councilors voted to form a charter review committee. Some updates, such as making the document gender neutral and cleaning up poor grammar, were easy. Others generated substantial debate, Pechinski said.

One of the most heavily discussed changes involved widening the amount of time between when elected officials are termed out and when they can run for office again. Right now, city councilors and school committee members can serve three three-year terms and then must take one year off before running again. The charter review committee has proposed keeping the term limits the same but increasing to three the number of years a termed-out official must wait before seeking office again.

Pechinski explained that it’s important for the city to encourage repeat service because those individuals have experience and historical memory, but the city shouldn’t make it too easy. Three years represented a compromise, she said, and allows better opportunities for new faces.

Discussion of the city’s recall process also led to proposed changes, including reducing the amount of time resident have to collect signatures from 60 days to 30 days, and increasing the number of signatures required to initiate a recall petition from 10 to 100.

“The previous process was too vague and too easy,” Pechinski explained.

Last December, resident Jim Elmore took out a petition to recall five city councilors — David Nealley, Gerry Palmer, Susan Hawes, Pat Blanchette and Rick Bronson — each of whom voted to uphold an earlier council decision to part ways with City Manager Ed Barrett. That recall effort failed.

Other proposed changes include adding a Code of Ethics statement to the city’s charter, and providing the council and school committee with the authority to remove a member under certain circumstances.

The city of Portland recently completed a review of its charter, although in a different fashion. Residents of Portland elected members of a charter review commission instead of relying on a committee of appointed members. That means any proposed changes can go directly to voters without approval of the city council.

Among the changes being considered in Portland are creating an elected-mayor form of government that gives more power to a full-time paid official who would work in tandem with the city manager.

Portland’s mayor — like Bangor’s — is appointed by the council, and the title is ceremonial. Portland’s charter review commission has not completed its recommendations but voters will consider them in November.

Pechinski said Bangor’s committee did look at an elected-mayor form of government but decided it wasn’t the best thing for the Queen City.

Any changes that eventually go before voters are likely to take voters by surprise, Pechinski predicted.

“I had never read the charter before serving on this committee,” she said. “I doubt there are many people in the city who have read it, including some city councilors.”

To read the charter, visit bangormaine.gov.

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