Topsham Charter Commission members during a charter meeting on Monday Payal Gangishetti

Topsham residents are wondering if their community has outgrown its traditional New England town meeting form of government.

The town’s Charter Commission on Monday heard a range of suggestions about ways to improve the basic structure of the town’s government.

While some residents recommended that the town should move from the current town meeting form of government to a representative town council form of government — allowing voters to voice in local policy decisions — others encouraged that the commission should look at ways in which the current form of government can be improved.

“I think we have outgrown the town meeting form of government,” said Topsham resident Gail Eaton. “Town meetings are sparsely attended, so it’s no longer a representative group of people voting on budgets. I think it is too easy for special groups to come in and sway what is happening, and that is not representative of what the Topsham’s majority want.”

Eaton added that the town would be better served with a council form of government, with districts representing a certain area of the town so that people within that district know where to go to offer suggestions or complaints.

The town meeting form of government serves as the legislative body, where it adopts ordinances, budgets and elects the Board of Selectmen. The board hires a town manager who implements the policies the board approves.

In 2008, the town voted down a proposed charter that would have moved the town to a representative town council form of government.

The town’s population was 5,931 in 2010, which increased to 6,222 in 2020, an increase of 4.9%.

However, last year, the committee that reviewed Topsham’s government recommended selectmen form a charter commission to study if changes can be made to help the town run better.

Topsham voters approved creating a charter commission during the June 8 elections.

The commission’s role is to review local government and recommend updates to the charter, which is a local constitution governing the form and powers of municipal government.

Susan Rae-Reeves, a Topsham resident, said that she is happy with the current form of government, however, thinks that there is room for improvement.

“I think this is a good group because they are not all of one mind,” said Reeves. “Hopefully, they can make a recommendation that will be moving us a little bit in the right direction,”

Another town resident, Liz Amstrong, recommended that the commission should consider looking at the representative town meeting form of government as well and not just think about the town council or town meeting form of government.

The charter commission’s chairperson, Pam Hile, said that their next step will be to take what they have heard in Monday’s meeting and discuss and come up with a process for moving forward for the next meeting in January.

“Our thoughts are to involve the public as much as possible,” said Hile. “We will be holding another public meeting on January 26. I guarantee that we will not miss an opportunity to get input and give you information on what we are doing.”


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