May 27, 2018
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Councilors, public say Bangor doesn’t need publicly elected mayor

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
James Gallant
By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — There wasn’t much desire shown Tuesday afternoon for changing Bangor’s governmental structure at the City Council government operations committee meeting.

And after six councilors and three residents shared their comments, it was apparent that the consensus was this: The system isn’t broken, so don’t fix it.

Tuesday’s public workshop drew six councilors, seven residents, three television reporters and a newspaper reporter, but it failed to draw many members of the public or much support for a political system employing the direct election of a mayor by Bangor’s residents.

“You can probably create a problem where a problem doesn’t really exist,” said resident Charlie Birkel. “I don’t see a problem with our city’s current system of government.”

Resident Gary Watson summed it up even more succinctly.

“Someone told me, ‘Don’t fix something that’s not broken,” Watson told the councilors and city staff members in council chambers.

Birkel and Watson were two of just three residents who spoke publicly at the meeting.

Birkel agreed with Councilors Pat Blanchette and James Gallant that all wording referring to Bangor’s mayor in the city charter should be eliminated and changed to chair, chairman or chairwoman.

“I think it would be good to eliminate our gray area,” said Gallant, who later suggested that councilors be given laptop computers and cell phones to better comply with Freedom of Information requests from anyone wanting to be privy to official council communication.

Several councilors agreed that a better course of governmental tweaking would be to change the process by which the City Council elects a mayor/chairman.

“The second problem is all the arm-twisting, emails and phone calls that go on before the vote for chair,” said Blanchette.

Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick suggested having City Solicitor Norm Heitmann research alternative systems for picking a chairman/chairwoman/mayor.

“I don’t like the backroom deals and late phone calls,” said Councilor Charlie Longo, who has led the effort to hold meetings on the viability of Bangor selecting a mayor through a public election.

“I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I thought the conversation was important to have,” Longo said.

Blanchette suggested having chairman candidates tell the public what their plan, vision and priorities are at a meeting or forum and then have councilors vote publicly.

“I think the question is more about what we want in a chair and what their powers should be,” said Councilor Ben Sprague.

Most agreed there was no need for public election of a mayor.

“Unless there’s a groundswell of public support, I see no need to make changes in our government,” said Councilor Joe Baldacci.

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