By Gene Geiger
Charter Commission Chair
The Lewiston and Auburn Joint Charter Commission has decided not to move forward with a merger vote this November. To put it simply, there is not enough time to do all that needs to be done. We’re determined to do this right, not do it fast.
We were aiming for a November vote, but the highest priority is to do a first-rate job so voters have clear, detailed and transparent information on which to make a decision. There is more to do.
Let me give you some background and details.
The work of the Commission takes place in after three formal efforts within the last 20 years to enhance collaboration between the two cities. However, there has never been a formal effort seeking complete merging of the two cities.
In 2013-14 a petition drive was launched to put the election of a joint charter commission on the ballot. Over 2,500 citizens signed those petitions, which resulted in the election of an independent joint charter commission. In June 2014, the citizens of Lewiston and Auburn each elected three residents to serve as members of a six-member Joint Charter Commission. In that election, there were six candidates from each city vying for the three positions. Commissioners elected were:
Gene Geiger, Commission Chair, President of Geiger; Lucien Gosselin, Treasurer, retired Executive Director of LAEGC and former City Administrator of Lewiston; Chantel Pettengill, owner of Pettengill Academy, former Chair of the YPLAA Political Involvement Committee
Mike Beaulieu, former state legislator from Auburn, retired teacher; Holly Lasagna, Commission Vice Chair, Manager of the REACH grant for Healthy Androscoggin, former Associate Director of the Bates College Harward Center for Community Partnerships; Chip Morrison, Business Development Officer for Androscoggin Bank, retired President of the Androscoggin County Chamber and former Auburn City Manager
The Commission’s work is governed by Title 30-A, §2152 of the Maine Revised Statutes, which requires the consolidation agreement to include elements such as: Proposed charter; Name of new city; Location of city hall; Assets of each city; Debt of each city; How taxes will be apportioned to service existing debt; Any other necessary and proper facts and terms.
The last element is key. An effort of this significance requires that the voters understand how merging the two cities would affect how the cities are managed and how services and taxes would be impacted. People we talk to want to have facts before making a decision.
To flush this information out in a detailed, unbiased way, the Commission retained CGR, a government efficiency non-
profit based in Rochester, NY. They are helping us conduct a study of Lewiston and Auburn now—and over 40 local residents are participating in the discussions and conclusions.
Look at the time we have between now and November; we concluded we are not far enough along:
Charter Documents. We are partially through a legal review of the proposed charter and the related consolidation agreement, but there are a number of unresolved issues regarding a post-vote transition. In addition, we just received several substantive suggestions for charter changes we want to dig into.
Cities Study. The options phase of the CGR-led study of the cities and schools started about six weeks ago. While we’ve made a lot of progress, we need more workgroup discussion and input on a number of issues. Once that is done, the draft report has to be reviewed and the data double checked before it is released. We expect the conclusions to be challenged, and we don’t want its data foundation to undermine its credibility.
So, we’re going to take our time and not rush. This is too important. We’ll release the charter and study report later this year or early next, and as we complete our work we’ll talk with community members and consider the most appropriate time to put the merger vote on the ballot.
Our work is fully chronicled on our website at newlacharter.ning.com. We welcome your ideas and support.