Why All Towns in Maine Need a Town Charter

Mackenzie Andersen

And How To Make It Happen!

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Under Maine statutory law. the only power that the inhabitants of a municipality are granted pursuant to the development of the municipality is that "they shall have a voice", identified as public hearings and permission to submit comments to the municipality but the process of submission is left undefined. Public participation stops there, as you shall learn by reading on.

How inhabitants of the municipality are given a voice but excluded from power

The Maine Revised Statutes:

Title 30-A:Part 2:Subpart 6-AChapter 187 §4324 2. Planning committee.

If a municipality or multimunicipal region chooses to prepare a growth management program, the municipal officers of a municipality or combination of municipalities shall designate and establish a planning committee, which may include one or more municipal officials.
B. The planning committee may develop and maintain a comprehensive plan and may develop any portion of an implementation program”. (emphasis mine)

Subpart 6, Part B: 1

In performing these duties, the planning committee shall:
(1) Hold public hearings and use other methods to solicit and strongly encourage citizen input
3. Citizen participation. In order to encourage citizen participation in the development of a growth management program, municipalities or multimunicipal regions may adopt growth management programs only after soliciting and considering a broad range of public review and comment. The intent of this subsection is to provide for the broad dissemination of proposals and alternatives, opportunity for written comments, open discussions, information dissemination and consideration of and response to public comments. (emphasis mine)
6. Comments sent to municipality.
[ 1991, c. 622, Pt. F, §25 (RP) .]

Despite provisions for public input, including a public hearing, there is no provision for a municipal referendum on the plan.


All decisions are made by the planning committee which may be a regional organization, a provision that grants special Interests, outside the municipality, authority to write the comprehensive plan for a municipality.

The discretionary term “may” permits a municipal selectperson to serve on the municipal planning committee, but it is not a requirement that the planning board consist of residents of the municipality, elected or otherwise.

The rhetoric used in State regulations states that the citizens of each municipality will be encouraged to have the “widest possible involvement” - short of having a say in or knowledge of who is on the municipal planning committee or allowed to vote on the growth plans of the municipality- short of that, the inhabitants of the municipality are granted “the widest possible involvement”

G. Encourage the widest possible involvement by the citizens of each municipality in all aspects of the planning and implementation process, in order to ensure that the plans developed by municipalities have had the benefit of citizen input; and [2001, c. 578, §7 (AMD).]”

Historical Background: Home Rule Versus Central Management

The Home Rule Amendment became part of the Maine Constitution in 1969, by a constitutional process, which includes a vote by the electorate.

Maine Constitution Article VIII.Part Second.Municipal Home Rule.
Section 1.Power of municipalities to amend their charters. The inhabitants of any municipality shall have the power to alter and amend their charters on all matters, not prohibited by Constitution or general law, which are local and municipal in character. The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure by which the municipality may so act.
Section 2. Construction of buildings for industrial use. For the purposes of fostering, encouraging and assisting the physical location, settlement and resettlement of industrial and manufacturing enterprises within the physical boundaries of any municipality, the registered voters of that municipality may, by majority vote, authorize the issuance of notes or bonds in the name of the municipality for the purpose of purchasing land and interests therein or constructing buildings for industrial use, to be leased or sold by the municipality to any responsible industrial firm or corporation.

Seven years after the Home Rule Amendment was added to the Maine Constitution, Governor Longley formed a board composed exclusively of the heads of the largest industries in the state, and commissioned it with leading the Legislature in establishing a centrally managed economy, the opposite of the free enterprise system. In Europe, the term "command economy" is often used for a centrally managed economy, a term that crystalizes the philosophical difference between a free enterprise economy and a centrally managed economy.

Longley's board created a report, available on request from the Maine Legislative Library. Governor's Task Force for Economic Redevelopment, Recommended Legislation for an Economic Development Program -110th Congress. This report calls for the elimination of local referendums on municipal bond issues with precise language:

2: eliminate the requirement for a local referendum on municipal bond issues.

The municipal referendum that Longley's board sought to eliminate is provided by the Home Rule Amendment, Section 2 added to the Maine Constitution only seven years previous to the time that Governor Longley's board set the goal of eliminating the municipal referendum. The board was working under Governor Longley and advising the Maine Legislature, and so the report constitutes an attempt by the government of Maine to undermine the Maine Constitution. Central management of Maine has expanded ever since, aided by every administration and every legislative body. All have accepted without contest that a free enterprise economy can be switched out with a centrally managed economy by an act of legislative deeming.

How is Home Rule doing today?

The proponents of the command economy have not succeeded in eliminating the municipal referendum on public bonds, but they have succeeded in creating a state largely governed by boards, an opaque form of government, evident in the fact that the identity of the members of the planning committee for a municipality is often obscured from public knowledge, and the means of appointing such a committee not publicized."the municipal officers of a municipality or combination of municipalities shall designate and establish a planning committee, which may include one or more municipal officials. " If one were interested in serving on one’s local planning committee, there is no clearly identified path to pursue such an objective. You might say it is all decided behind closed doors by the Maine Round Table, which may or may not include local residents, elected or not.

The only input that the inhabitants of the municipality may have in the planning the growth of their own municipality is in voting for their selectmen who may (or may not) be granted a position on the planning committee

In instances where municipal officers are enumerated, the planning board and the planning committee are not included. Example:

§2631. Town manager plan
1. Applicable laws. The form of government provided in this subchapter shall be known as the "town manager plan" and, together with general law not inconsistent, shall govern any town in which the voters have adopted this plan at a meeting held at least 90 days before the annual meeting. [ 1987, c. 737, Pt. A, §2 (NEW); 1987, c. 737, Pt. C, §106 (NEW); 1989, c. 6, (AMD); 1989, c. 9, §2 (AMD); 1989, c. 104, Pt. C, §§8, 10 (AMD) .]
2. Government. The government of each town under this subchapter shall consist of a town meeting, an elected board of selectmen, an elected school committee, an appointed town manager and any other officials and employees that may be appointed under this subchapter, general law or ordinance. Other town officials may be elected by ballot, including, but not limited to, moderator, assessors, overseers of the poor, clerk and treasurer. The election of officials at the last annual town meeting shall require that those town offices continue to be filled by election until the town designates otherwise. [ 1987, c. 737, Pt. A, §2 (NEW); 1987, c. 737, Pt. C, §106 (NEW); 1989, c. 6, (AMD); 1989, c. 9, §2 (AMD); 1989, c. 104, Pt. C, §§8, 10 (AMD) .]

The Maine Legislature uses rosy rhetoric to occlude the truth that statutory laws may transform town planning boards into instruments of the state, appointed by state officials, or regional subsidiaries of the state. This is the opposite intention of the Home Rule Amendment which grants local control.

The Home Rule Amendment can be used to take back local control through Town Charters, which can include an electoral process for assigning Town planning boards, and requirements that planning board members be residents of a municipality.

Best Method of Insuring the “Widest Possible involvement”

The actual means of encouraging “the widest possible involvement” Is for towns to create their own charters, putting the inhabitants of the municipality in charge of their own development and able to clearly define all the functions left vague in the municipal ordinances written by our Legislature.

Thanks to the Home Rule Amendment, the Maine Legislature has to include the procedure for establishing a Town Charter in Title 30, where the full procedure for establishing a Town Charter is outlined, typically it begins by saying that it is up to the municipal officers, a term left undefined in the statute.

But after that, there is outlined a public method of initiating a Town Chater, like so:

§2102. Charter revisions, adoptions, procedure

3. Petition procedure. The following procedure shall be used in the alternative method set out in subsection 2.
A. Any 5 voters of the municipality may file an affidavit with the municipal clerk stating: (1) That the 5 voters will constitute the petitioners' committee;
(2) The names and addresses of the 5 voters;
(3) The address to which all notices to the committee are to be sent; and
(4) That the 5 voters will circulate the petition and file it in proper form.
The petitioners' committee may designate additional voters of the municipality, who are not members of the committee, to circulate the petition.
Promptly after the affidavit is filed, the clerk shall issue petition blanks to the committee. [PL 1987, c. 737, Pt. A, §2 (NEW); PL 1987, c. 737, Pt. C, §106 (NEW); PL 1989, c. 6 (AMD); PL 1989, c. 9, §2 (AMD); PL 1989, c. 104, Pt. C, §§8, 10 (AMD).]This is a formal preliminary citizen’s request that the municipal officers adopt a new municipal charter to serve the interests of “the widest possible involvement” of the inhabitants of the municipality in the planning of their own future development.

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