Gardiner to decide on voting districts

Kennebec Journal (Augusta, ME) - Tuesday, October 30, 2001
Author: KEITH EDWARDS, Staff Writer

GARDINER - A proposal to reduce the number of voting districts in the city from seven to four tops the local ballot here on Nov. 6. 

If the proposal passes, the city would still be overseen by seven city councilors and a mayor, but three of those councilors would be elected at-large. The other four councilors would be elected by residents from the four new districts. 

Currently, the City Charter specifies that all seven councilors be elected by residents of the seven existing voting districts, or wards. 

Proponents say the change will save money and hassles on election days, as the city will have to staff four instead of seven polling places, and would result in more councilors being elected to represent the whole city, rather than just constituents from within a particular district. Officials also believe the switch could increase competition for city government positions which, in recent years, have often been filled in uncontested elections. 

"It saves us some money - $5,000 to $7,000 every election," said Mayor Brian Rines. "And it allows for more people having the perspective of the entire city, while still preserving each resident having their own councilor to go to if, say, you need a curb replaced in your neighborhood. It saves the best of the old and gives us a chance to get a better perspective." 

He said the anticipated saving would result from not having to pay workers to run seven polling places every election. 

The districts were drawn up by William Najpauer, of the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, to reduce the number of districts and bring them within state guidelines that require the population of voting districts to be within 10 percent of each other. Each of the proposed districts includes approximately 1,550 people. 

The city's seven voting districts were actually invalidated in 1999 after city officials were informed that routine redistricting, to keep the sizes of the districts within population guidelines, had not been done. 

Glenna Nowell, chairwoman of the committee that studied the issue and recommended the changes, said the city will have to redistrict its existing seven wards to bring their populations within state guidelines, even if the charter changes are rejected by voters. 

Najpauer said at a recent sparsely attended public forum on the issue the four new districts were drawn based on 2000 Census statistics. 

There are two other charter amendments to face voters on Nov. 6. 

One of the changes is an effort, officials said, to correct a problem in the election of Gardiner's six members of the School Administrative District 11 board. 

School Board elections originally were established so that two positions would be up for a vote every election. But now, because of a previous lapse in a three-year cycle, two board members are elected the first year, four the second year and none the third year. 

Officials have expressed concern that having four positions up for election in one year could lead to four inexperienced board members getting on the board at the same time. 

The charter change would return the election of Gardiner representatives to two positions per election. 

The third charter amendment would decrease the amount of time required for ordinances to take effect after they are approved by the City Council - 30 days to 10 days - and remove the requirement that new ordinances be published before taking effect. 

Jeff Kobrock, city manager, said that change would make the city's procedure for adopting ordinances more similar to the existing procedure for adopting other council actions. 

Four candidates seek four seats on the City Council. The candidates, all incumbents, are Jean Dellert, Stephen Hanley, Paula Thomas and Michael Webster.