The Biddeford Charter Commission has proposed some necessary and logical changes to the city’s guiding document, but one proposal needs further scrutiny.

The proposal would require referendum approval for any purchases of $2 million or more that are not part of the city’s annual budget. Commission Chairman Roland Pelletier told the Journal Tribune that the question has nothing to do with the proposed $6.6 million purchase of the Maine Energy Recovery waste-to-energy incinerator located in Biddeford’s downtown, on which the City Council is set to make a decision July 31.

But if it doesn’t, what’s the purpose?

Biddeford residents elect city councilors to pass a budget, consider and deliberate on city business, and approve expenditures, among other responsibilities. The council form of government gives more responsibility to those elected council members for a reason. Town councils and boards of selectmen that are combined with the Town Meeting form of government give residents more control to decide on the annual budget and expenditures.

Adding this $2 million threshold may make sense, but it won’t have any effect on the upcoming MERC sale, as the vote is scheduled for the end of the month. And if it were to pass, it may tie the hands of the future councilors when a quick decision on an expenditure is pertinent and in the best interest of the city and its residents.

No one likes to be micro-managed, and it seems adding this provision to the city charter would do that, by taking the power back from councilors who are elected to represent the people. If people have problems with the decisions their councilors make, they should make their voices heard, vote for someone else come election time, or run for office themselves.

In a day and age when people are often apathetic toward their civic duties ”“ such as voting and serving in public offices ”“ councilors are doing the homework and showing up to the many meetings required of their posts. These people are elected to make the difficult decisions, and they are the ones in the best position to do so.

That said, the charter commission’s other proposals would take care of some issues that need clearing up.

For instance, one change being considered would prohibit immediate family members of city or school employees, committee members and elected officials who have a direct or indirect financial interest in a contract, from doing business with the city or school department.

In 2010, the telecommunications company XATEL, LLC made an unsuccessful bid to provide telephone service for the city. Councilor David Bourque, who was also on the council at that time, was a principal in the company. Although the current charter prohibits companies in which a councilor has a substantial financial interest from entering into contracts with the city, Bourque had transferred his shares in the company to his wife.

This change is a no-brainer. It’s obvious that one’s family members should not be used to circumvent part of the charter. Anyone who is on a city board or the school committee, or employees of either, should not do business with the city, nor should their family members. Such a provision will maintain a professional and level playing field and avoid conflicts of interest.

Another proposal would eliminate the residency requirement for the superintendent of schools. According to the current charter, the superintendent must reside in the city within six months of being hired. Jeremy Ray, who became the new superintendent on July 1, lives in Saco.

Voters will be asked to eliminate the residency requirement in the upcoming vote, which seems like a good idea. It may be difficult to find a quality candidate who lives in the city or is willing to relocate for the job in the future, and limits search committees by adding the burden of residency. While it is clear why the residency requirement for councilors and the mayor is necessary, it shouldn’t be a requirement for the superintendent.

All of these proposals will be before voters in the fall, but for those who would like to weigh in and make their voices heard, the commission will hold its final meeting before sending their changes onto the council on July 19 at City Hall.


Today’s editorial was written by City Editor Robyn Burnham representing the majority opinion of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].