KENNEBUNK – Voters heartily approved formation of a commission to revise the town charter in November, and now, residents can let the newly-minted commission know what is on their minds.

A public meeting has been set for 10 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 21 at Kennebunk Town Hall. Organizers have set a snow date for the following Saturday.

The next regular meeting is Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at town hall, and again on Jan. 25. Regular meetings will take place on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. They will be broadcast live on cable channel 5, and available on Town Hall Streams the following day, said Christian Babcock, Charter Commission chair.

All meetings are open to the public. The Jan. 21 session is specifically to give “information, views, comments, and other material relating to its functions,” according to the state law governing municipal charter commissions.

The November vote was 2-1 in favor of a commission, with 4,043 voters casting yes ballots, and 2,168 voting no. The vote came just months after a rancorous campaign surrounding an attempt to recall a school board member. The March 29 vote to recall Timothy Stentiford was defeated by more than a 3-1 margin, with 516 votes in favor of recall, and 1,716 against.

The recall issue exposed what officials noted were shortcomings in the current charter including a lack of specifics and process on that issue and some others.


So, what is a municipal charter? It is a document that outlines how a municipality functions. According to an August 1992 story in the Maine Townsman by Geoffrey Herman, a charter “is the municipal equivalent of a state or federal constitution.”

“It is within a municipal charter where such essential questions as the structure of government, the distribution of powers within the government, and a citizen’s access to government are – more or less – completely answered,” Herman wrote. “A municipal charter is a primary document, a taproot expression of local control; Home Rule authority congealed.”

Babcock, named chair of the nine-member commission by his peers at the Jan. 4 organizational meeting, said local input from residents is vital.

“It is important for residents of the town to have a say in how their government functions,” said Babcock. “It is important for all residents to have an interest. Our form of government here is driven by residents and citizens of the town.”

Kennebunk’s charter was originally adopted in 1984 and was amended and revised over the ensuing years. The most recent amendment, which made the document gender neutral, was in June. The last major revision went into effect July 1, 2009.

Babcock said he decided to get involved after reading a letter to the editor during the recall process.


“(It said) if you don’t like the way things are, change the charter,” he recalled.

He said the goal is to present a revision to the people for a vote within a year, but noted the timeline will become more defined after more meetings are held.

“Public involvement and public understanding of the process is a high priority for every commission member, with the public understanding they have a voice that can be heard,” said Babcock.

The commission consists of nine members as prescribed in state law. Six elected members include Chris Babbidge, Susan Bloomfield, Brenda Robinson, Stephen Sayers, Edward Trainer, and Babcock. Three members appointed by the select board include Chris Cluff, Janice Vance, and Richard Smith.

Vance serves on the Planning Board and previously on the comprehensive plan update committee – with the plan accepted by voters, that panel has finished its work. As to the charter commission, Vance said she expected goals would be set at the next meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 11.

“I’m looking forward to being part of another group of town residents who are thoughtful and bring a wealth of knowledge to the task.” Vance said.


Bloomfield agreed that openness and accessibility are important.

“My primary hope is for spirited public input and lots of it,” she said in an email. “.. .and we will strive to assure our varied outreach efforts are accessible and inviting of all opinions. The new charter will only be as good as the input we receive from townspeople. From their personal experiences, I’m certain everyone can suggest excellent ways to improve Kennebunk’s government.”

Her hope, she said, is the commission’s revision is “a cohesive, compliant document” that eliminates existing ambiguities. “It must define and detail what constitutes good governance for our town – with an eye to the future,” Bloomfield said.

As to timeline, state statutes outline that within nine months after its election, the charter commission shall prepare a preliminary report including the text of the charter or charter revision which the commission intends to submit to the voters and any explanatory information the commission considers desirable, and have the preliminary report printed and available to the public.

A final report is due within 12 months, but can be extended to 24 months after the election of the commission if necessary to complete the task.

Once complete, the select board is directed to order the proposed new charter be submitted to the next regular or special municipal election, at least 35 days after the final report is filed.

Babcock said he is encouraged about the task ahead.

He said the commission will review the existing document, section by section, have a look at other municipal charters, consider the thoughts of commission members and the public and speak with current and former select board members to hear what issues they have had with the current charter.

“Everyone has brought ideas to the table,” he said following the first commission meeting.

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