The Topsham Charter Commission voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to keep the community’s current town meeting form of government.

The commission’s 8-1 vote is the biggest decision the group has made since it started meeting last year.

The members debated whether a select board or council would best serve the interests of the town, but in the end, a majority felt the current select board is something residents are comfortable with.

“I have very mixed feelings about which way the government should go. There are advantages to both sides,” said committee Chair Pam Hile. “Even if 90% of the town wanted to change to the council form of government, the remaining 10% will be so angry that the issue will become divisive. I don’t know if this is the time to even think about that particular change.”

The charter commission conducted two public hearings recently where they heard a range of suggestions about improving 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, others encouraged that the commission should look at ways in which the current form of government can be improved.


Charter Commission member Jeanette MacNeille said the discussion was premature.

“About one-third of 1% of the population who came to the first public hearing spoke in favor of a town council, but many people spoke in favor of town meeting,” said MacNeille. “The overall numbers were extraordinarily small. I feel like the discussion of the form of government is really premature.”

She said there are some real problems with how the two government works.

“One problem that exists is information making its way into the Select Board and the town meeting or the town council process and also information making its way out of the town government to the citizens,” said MacNeille. “I think there is a two-way informational process there that isn’t working very well.

The town meeting assembly of citizens serves as the legislative body, where it adopts ordinances budgets and elects selectmen. The board hires a town manager who implements the policies the board approves.

In 2018, 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%.

Tyler Washburn, another charter commission member, said the town meeting gives the people the ability to have a real say in their local government and the ability to engage with their neighbors directly.

“There is a reason it has been called the purest form of democracy. That said, I may be biased,” said Washburn. “My first-ever votes were cast at a town meeting in my hometown. It is a strong New England tradition, something back to the 1760s in Topsham.”

As part of the ongoing process, the committee will determine if there are any recommendations that would require a charter to implement.

They will also explore areas that could, by statute, require a charter and look into areas that could be improved by ordinance.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.