OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Only three residents turned out for a public hearing on the Charter Commission’s preliminary report Wednesday, despite a proposal to significantly alter the town council.

The commission has proposed expanding the council from five to seven members, six of whom would have three-year terms and one would serve a one-year term. No one would be able to serve more than seven years consecutively.

Current councilors serve two-year staggered terms without term limitations.

Town Councilor Robin Dayton spoke as a resident against expanding the council.

“Based on my experience, I’m concerned about increasing to seven because we’re still a small town,” she said.

The population of Old Orchard Beach is about 8,600, according to Town Clerk Kim McLaughlin.

Charter Commission member Ronald Regis said a number of towns, including Bar Harbor, Cape Elizabeth, Freeport, Kennebunk, Standish and Yarmouth, have similar populations and operate with seven municipal officers.

John Bird, commission vice chairman, explained the proposed increase was for practical reasons and for greater representation.

Last November three seats were up for election and seven candidates ran, McLaughlin said, and the incumbents ultimately were elected. In 2009, incumbents also were reelected to the two open seats. One other person ran.

With a small council, Bird said “cliques” tend to form on certain issues.

“It’s easy to get three people (the current majority needed) in agreement, but it’s more difficult to get four,” he said. “It’s harder to get those hard and fast camps.”

Dusty Guarino, who served on a past Charter Commission, said she opposes the proposed term limits.

“It takes away my choice,” Guarino said, noting that if someone does a good job on the town council she wants the ability to reelect them, regardless of how many years they have served.

Dayton also questioned some sections of the proposal dealing with the town manager’s power and duties and the town’s financial procedures. She cited specific items and said they need “more teeth” to allow for greater accountability in town departments and government.

The current charter was drafted in 1998. The commission has been meeting twice a month for the past 18 months to make proposed revisions. At one point during the meeting, Bird commented that he wished more residents had turned out for the public hearing.

Charter Commission member Jerome Begert said he advocated for the Charter Commission meetings to be televised back in 2009 so residents could at the very least be informed about the process. Begert was appointed to the commission in Feb. 2010 after a member resigned.

“I have gotten feedback,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting. “People are paying attention.”

Residents will vote on the proposed changes in November. The proposals have been broken down into four questions that ask if the council should be increased to seven members, if terms should be limited, if “OOB School Board” should be removed from the charter to comply with state law and reflect the formation of Regional School Unit 23, and to approve all other changes, which are described as “housekeeping changes.”

The commission is tentatively scheduled to meet again at 7 p.m. on June 15.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at [email protected]