For years, the formation of a charter commission in Westbrook was highly contentious.

Officials disagreed over whether the city’s form of government, namely the power of the mayor, should be opened up to an overhaul.

Eventually, they agreed to ask voters, who opted in 2010 to form a commission to review the city charter.

About a half-year into the review, the commission hasn’t considered moving away from having a strong mayor, but is focused instead on making small changes.

The nine-member panel was scheduled to submit a preliminary report of its work at the beginning of next month, but it asked for a seven-month extension, which the City Council granted last week.

The preliminary report is now due in March, and the commission is scheduled to make a final recommendation for changes to the charter in June. Residents would vote on those changes in November 2012.

The purpose of the extension is mainly to allow for more public input, said Drew Gattine, the commission’s chairman.

For the most part, he said, the group has agreed about topics discussed, including staggering the election of city councilors, lengthening their terms and shortening School Committee terms.

Under the current charter, all seven city councilors are up for election every two years, and school board members serve four-year terms.

As for administrative powers, Gattine said, the commission has talked about no longer having the mayor vote on any city business. Now, the mayor votes along with the City Council on some items, such as liquor licenses and telephone pole placements.

Other than that, he said, the powers of the mayor look like they will stay intact.

“There doesn’t seem to be much interest in a whole new form of government,” Gattine said. “The consensus is, Westbrook really likes having a strong mayor.”

Westbrook’s mayor, said to be the most powerful in Maine, has the authority to hire and fire department heads and veto City Council decisions.

By comparison, the full-time mayor who will be elected by Portland voters in November will be able to veto only the city budget.

In Westbrook, the current mayor and the previous one made use of their unique power.

Former Mayor Bruce Chuluda twice vetoed a budget line for a taxpayer-funded curbside recycling program.

Mayor Colleen Hilton made headlines in 2010 when she fired three department heads, including the fire chief, during her inauguration.

Hilton, a Democrat, beat out Chuluda, a Republican, by less than 2 percentage points in 2009, and the two may go head-to-head again in November.

Hilton said Thursday that she plans to run for re-election, and Chuluda said he’s “seriously considering” challenging her.

Although the two politicians have taken different stances on many city issues, they agree that the mayor’s powers should stay. “It has worked well for our community,” Hilton said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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