SCARBOROUGH – At its Sept. 1 meeting, the Scarborough Town Council approved placing six town charter amendments, recommended by the council-appointed Charter Review Committee, on the town ballot for the November election.

The council made one amendment to the committee’s recommendations, making it more difficult for residents to recall an elected official.

Town Manager Tom Hall said after the committee reviewed the existing charter for a year, the group came up with several recommended amendments to the town charter, including: setting the number of Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals seats at five, plus two alternatives; creating a long-range planning committee; prohibiting a person from sitting on both the Board of Education and the Sanitary District Board; adding a provision that provides a way for residents to overrule Town Council decisions on the sale of property valued over $400,000; instituting a provision in which citizens can recall a municipal election, plus a number of grammatical and technical changes.

Councilor Mike Wood said the committee’s hard work over the last year resulted in a “very good packet for the Town Council to consider.”

Hall said the need to take another look at the town charter was not due to any “burning issues or immediate concerns” with the document but rather due to a provision in it that requires it to be reexamined every 10 years. The last time the document was examined was in 2000.

“The town charter is essentially our local Constitution,” Hall said. “We operate by home rule, which means we have the right to organize ourselves and not rely on state standards as much.”

“It’s a healthy thing to do,” he said of the review, “just to make sure things still make sense.”

One of the changes to the charter, the establishment of long-range planning committee, would help the town plan its growth into the future. Hall said the committee, which will be appointed by Town Council, will be independent from the Planning Board and would serve in an advisory role both to that board and the Town Council.

“They are really tasked at looking down the road,” Hall said. “That could mean taking a look at transportation, open space preservation, zoning changes. We thought it was important enough to put into the charter.”

Hall said the only substantive change to the committee recommendations that came out of Sept. 1 meeting came when the Town Council tweaked the recall recommendation by making the process a little bit harder to orchestrate.

The Town Council agreed on the process for the recall, but differed on how many voters should be present in the recall election.

Per the committee’s recommendation, a recall would be possible if 25 voters initiated a recall petition and, within 20 days, get 25 percent of the number of Scarborough voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election to sign the petition.

The committee had also recommended that at least 25 percent of town voters who participated in the previous gubernatorial race participate in the recall election. The figure would be roughly 2,200 voters based on the turnout for the last gubernatorial election.

No one on the Town Council felt that was quite the right number.

Councilor Karen D’Andrea made a motion to change the number to 15 percent. Fellow Councilor Jessica Holbrook and Chairwoman Carol Rancourt supported the change. Ron Ahlquist, Judy Roy and Wood did not.

Wood said he felt the 25 percent requirement for voter turnout was too low, and at the meeting he made an amendment to require 40 percent of the number of voters from the previous gubernatorial election to take part.

“I’ve been consistent in my opinion that I have never been philosophically opposed to a recall provision,” Wood said. “I have always believed removing an elected official is a very serious thing and it should have a higher threshold.”

A number of councilors, he said, felt 40 percent was too high and an impossible threshold to reach.

The differing numbers, Wood said, launched an hour-and-a-half-long debate. That ended when Roy made a motion to amend the number to 30 percent, which passed 6-0.

“It was quite probable if we continued in a stalemate, it likely would have died in what I would have predicted as a 3-3 tie,” Wood said. “That would have prevented the citizens from voting on it in November.”

“I applaud the council for supporting the recall concept,” Hall said. “I agree there should be a method, but I don’t think it should be terribly easy.”

The fear some councilors had, Hall said, was the recall provision would be used “arbitrarily and capriciously.”

Wood said he predicts all the proposed charter changes will get voter approval, including the recall.

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