LEWISTON — A committee tasked with reviewing the City Charter will likely recommend the city move to staggered terms for elected officials, a change that would require an elected Charter Commission to move forward.
The City Council was briefed on the charter review committee’s work Tuesday, where committee chairman and former city administrator, Ed Barrett, laid out several scenarios for officials. According to Barrett, the charter committee has shown, “a great deal of support,” for initiating staggered terms in order to cut down on the amount of turnover possible.
Lewiston currently holds municipal elections every two years in which every seat is up for election, leaving the possibility of an entirely new slate of officials with every new cycle. Barrett said the committee also appears to favor moving to a nine-member council, adding two at-large positions, but the committee has not yet finalized its recommendations.
In order for changes to be implemented, the city would have to hold a referendum to establish a charter commission, then hold an election for commission members. The city of Portland is in the middle of a similar process, with an election for commission members held Tuesday.
An elected Charter Commission would not be bound to recommendations made by either the charter review committee or city officials.
Barrett said the committee, which has been working since March, has looked at several options for how to establish staggered terms. One is simply holding a municipal election annually, with half of the council and School Committee seats up every year.
If the charter is ultimately changed to expand the size of the council, Barrett said another option is extending councilor terms to three years, making three council seats up for election annually.
Barrett said some committee members support shifting to staggered terms but “don’t particularly like the options to get there.”
But he said the committee supports the move in order to encourage “more stability.”
In a memo to the council, he said the two-year cycle in recent years “has led to significant turnover on the council, raising concerns regarding continuity and the potential for a largely newly elected governing body facing the challenge of the annual budget process shortly after taking office. Moving to staggered council terms will address these concerns and ensure that a solid base of experience remains on the council after each election.”
The memo states that the nine-member council option could also “dramatically increase council continuity by limiting the potential turnover of councilors.”
Barrett told the council that adding two at-large councilors would, “add a stronger city-wide perspective to Council deliberations; and generally maintain the current balance between the authority of the mayor and that of the council.”
Councilors had limited comments Tuesday, but Barrett urged them to decide soon whether to initiate a full commission. He said if the council wishes, the referendum to approve establishing the commission and elections for its members could be held during the same election, but the committee does not agree with that method.
It’s likely that if a commission is needed, the initial vote to establish it would be held this November, with the commission member elections the following in June. Barrett said other changes under consideration by the committee include adjusting the salaries of elected officials, reducing the age requirement for running for office from 20 to 18, and changes to the budget process to make it more in line with state law.
A final report from the committee is slated for July.
Last year, officials in Auburn declined to move forward with an effort to shift to staggered terms because a full charter commission would have been required.