NEW GLOUCESTER — Residents will vote next week whether to form a commission to establish a town charter.

New Gloucester Citizens for a Town Charter says a charter will give residents more oversight of their local government and increase transparency in town affairs.

Without one, municipalities must defer to state laws on most matters of governance.

New Gloucester can only operate under the framework of state law, said John Salisbury, one of the group’s organizers and leaders.

“Very few citizens know how to access the state statues,” said Salisbury, a former executive director of the Maine Municipal Association. “Town charters have everything in front of you, all spelled out.”

This is the second time the town charter group successfully petitioned to get a question placed on the town ballot. A similar proposal failed by just four votes in 2018.


In June, the group submitted a petition with 648 signatures, one month after their request to waive the requirement for signatures was denied by the Selectboard. The waiver was requested due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

Town Manager Brenda Fox-Howard said that, among other benefits, a charter would allow the town to create a tailored, legal framework to provide direction during emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’ll be a huge asset to the town,” Fox-Howard said. “I think that this town definitely needs a charter, that’s my opinion.”

A charter would also allow residents to decide such matters as term limits for members of the Selectboard.

At the 2017 town meeting, residents approved an ordinance to limit Selectboard members to three consecutive three-year terms, but a majority of the board voted the following April to rule the ordinance “legally invalid,” because state law does not include term limits for municipal officers. A charter would supersede that state law.

Anonymous mailers opposing a charter, obtained by Lakes Region Weekly, state: “Every time a charter is changed more authority goes to the government and away from the people,” and “we ain’t no city, we don’t want to be like our neighbors.”


The mailers do not include information about who paid for them, only the address of a print shop in Windham.

They also claim a charter would get rid of New Gloucester’s Board of Selectmen-type government in favor of a council.

However, as Salisbury and others have pointed out, state law requires that any changes to a charter, such as the form of government, are submitted to the town through a petition and/or recommendation from municipal officers, which is then must be approved by voters.

If approved next month, the town will form a charter commission comprised of six residents elected via secret ballot and three people appointed by the Selectboard, as per state law.

The commission then has one year to submit a proposed charter and final report to the Selectboard before going to voters for final approval but can extend the deadline for up to two years.

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