Work continues on Freeport Charter; public hearing set for September

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FREEPORT — The Town Council held a workshop on Tuesday, Aug. 10, to discuss proposed updates and amendments to the Town Charter.

Town Attorney Goeff Hole of Bernstein Shur and former Charter Commission members Vaughndella Curtis and Edward Bonney attended the meeting. Hole presented the proposed changes, and councilors agreed to hold another workshop before making any decisions.

It became clear that a Charter review was necessary after the council voted on April 6 to consolidate dispatch services with Brunswick’s communication center and a group of residents filed a petition to overturn the decision.

Under the existing Charter, a petition to overturn a council decision has to be signed in the presence of the town clerk or deputy clerk at the clerk’s office. Some residents said the Charter effectively prevents housebound or disabled residents from participating.

In response, resident Marianne McGettigan filed a complaint against the town with the Maine Human Rights Commission, and two petitions have been circulated  – one to overturn the council decision to consolidate dispatch with Brunswick, and another that would prohibit Freeport from contracting with another entity for dispatch and require dispatch to be based in town 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Both petitions have failed.

Hole presented the council with two language options regarding the procedure to overrule council actions, petition regulations and recall councilors.

The first option would require residents sign a petition in the presence of the town clerk, but would be amended to allow the clerk to deliver the petition, ordinance or resolve to a resident incapable of getting to Town Hall to sign it.

The second option, based on Councilor Joe Migliaccio’s suggestion, would allow residents to circulate a petition and gather signatures without being in the town clerk’s presence. Each page of the petition would have an affidavit attached, indicating the validity of the petition language and the circulator’s ability to circulate the papers.

Councilors supported the first option, although Migliaccio said he would support a combination of the two options.

In addition to updating the overrule, recall and petition process, the council discussed the removal of language that restricts a pay-per-bag trash disposal system in town.

The proposed amendment would remove language that currently states the Town Council is unable to enact any ordinance transferring ecomaine disposal costs to residents by enactment of a user fee, pay-per-bag charge or other new tax.

Hole said the amendment would be discussed by town officials and interested parties before the proposed amendment is brought to the public.

Councilor Charlotte Bishop said she would not consider putting the amendment to the voters in a November election because of time constraints. Councilor Rich DeGrandpre agreed with Bishop, and said there are more questions to be answered before the pay-per-bag issue could be placed on a ballot.

Councilor Jim Cassida said the pay-per-bag issue should go through a thoughtful process, but he encouraged timely discussion.

“We need to discuss how it effects trash haulers, residents and the municipal budget,” he said. “There is a short window, (before the election) but it could be done.”

Speaking as a former councilor and member of the Charter Commission, Bonney said the pay-per-bag restriction does not belong in the Town Charter.

“Any Town Charter that fiscally prohibits its officials does not serve the community well,” he said. “This should be an ordinance.”

These and other proposed amendments are available on the town’s Web site and at Town Hall. There will be a public meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7, at 7 p.m. to discuss the proposed Charter language.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net

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