Westbrook’s elected officials will decide Monday whether the formation of a charter commission will be a question for voters on the November ballot. If councilors stick to the votes they made at a Committee of the Whole meeting this week, it will be.

The Committee of the Whole, which is made up of the seven city councilors, voted 5-2 Monday, with Lyle Cramer and John O’Hara opposed, to put the question out to voters. On July 6, the Municipal Officers, which include the councilors and the mayor, will take a final vote.

The discussion about forming a charter commission has been in front of city officials since last year, and the debate continues to be split along party lines, with the Democrats in favor of having a referendum and Republicans opposed.

However, the Municipal Officers voted down the proposal in a tie vote last year, when Democrats Dotty Aube and Drew Gattine were absent from the meeting.

O’Hara and Cramer argued at the committee meeting Monday that the charter has worked well for the city and forming a commission could subject it to negative changes.

“To take what has worked so well and throw it out and start from scratch,” Cramer said, “I think is foolhardy.”

O’Hara felt the process was being rushed, which, he said, is no way to do business, “especially when it comes to the Holy Grail of our town.”

Mayor Bruce Chuluda agreed, saying the issues that are driving councilors to want to review the charter – such as lengthening council terms and reconsidering the mayor’s role in city government – need to be fully discussed in front of the elected officials and the public first.

But other councilors said those issues have been discussed by the same group of people for more than a year now, and there’s still plenty of time before November to educate voters.

“I don’t think we’re rushing this at all,” said Councilor Mike Foley.

Councilor Drew Gattine added that there will be many steps to go through before any actual changes are made, including the campaign of members of the commission.

“There will be a much more complete public conversation and discussion,” he said.

A charter commission would consist of six elected members and three people appointed by the City Council. A commission would convene for a year to review the existing charter and make recommendations about changes, which could significantly alter the way Westbrook’s government operates. The commission’s

recommendations would have to be approved by voters.

City Solicitor Bill Dale said the members of the commission have to be elected within 200 days of the vote on whether to have a charter commission at all.

City staff has not found any record that Westbrook has ever had a full review of the charter since its adoption in 1907.

To one side that means it’s time to take a look. To the other, that means it’s working well.

“Let’s remember the old adage,” said O’Hara. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The Municipal Officers will vote Monday at 7 p.m. in Room 114 at Westbrook High School.


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