After some backlash for failing to appoint members to the charter commission in a timely manner, the New Gloucester Selectboard Monday reversed its position and voted to name the members in April instead of in July.

Voters in November approved forming a charter commission, with supporters saying a town charter will give residents more oversight of local government and will increase transparency in town affairs.

The charter commission, in accordance with state law, will be comprised of six elected officials and three members appointed by the Selectboard. The law also says if commission members are not elected at the time of the referendum, they must be elected at the next regular or special election.  The Selectboard must make its appointments within 30 days after voters approve creating the commission.

The election of members could have been held Dec. 15, 2020, at the same time as the special vote on the library budget referendum, meaning the Selectboard would have had to make appointments by Dec. 3. Neither action was taken.

Steve Hathorne, a member of New Gloucester Citizens for a Town Charter and former selectman who has been an outspoken critic of the Selectboard, said this week that the board took “an oath to uphold the law. They know that’s a sworn oath and they have violated it. How can a taxpayer have faith in them executing their jobs?”

The issue first came up at a March 1 Selectboard meeting, when Selectman Peter Bragdon attempted to reconsider a motion made last year to make appointments 30 days after the upcoming June 8 election, but there was no action taken.

The members this week unanimously voted to move the appointment date to April 5.

The six commissioners will still be elected at the regular municipal elections in June.

Chairperson Karen Gilles and Bragdon did not return requests for comment earlier this week.

Selectboard members Tammy Donovan and Linda Chase both said at the March 1 meeting that they would have preferred to wait until the new Selectboard is elected in June before appointing charter commission members.

“I don’t disagree with that, but the rules, the laws don’t say that,” Bragdon said, to which Donovan replied, “Well, a lot of people break rules.”

At the same meeting, Gilles read a letter from town attorney Phillip Saucier of Portland law firm Bernstein Shur that said the statute “does not include any penalties” for failure to follow the law. Saucier could not be reached for comment.

Hathorne said that there may not be a legal penalty, but “there certainly is in the morality of the taxpayer going back to the ballot box to vote them in.”

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