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Council approves changes to ordinance governing citizen boards, committees

Beginning in August, meetings of most citizen boards and commissions will instead be meetings of town committees.

The Town Council on July 11, 2016 voted to adopt a rewrite of the town ordinance governing citizen boards and commissions, renaming most groups "committees" and more clearly defining their roles as advisory to the Town Council.

The new ordinance standardizes the descriptions and expectations of citizen committees. Groups with quasi-judicial responsibilities such as the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals will remain "boards."

Other changes to the ordinance assign the responsibility of recording meeting minutes to town staff, and designates the formal roles as trustees of the Thomas Memorial Library, the Riverside Cemetery and the Thomas Jordan Trust; and as directors of the Museum at Portland Head Light, to the Town Council.

The current library and cemetery boards of trustees will continue their work, but will be referred to as "committees."

The vote to approve the new ordinance was unanimous. However, representatives of the Thomas Memorial Library Board of Trustees who spoke at a public hearing were not pleased with some of the the proposal. "I feel that's what's being communicated is really looking at a way to limit public input in terms of what you do," library board member Debbie Peck told councilors. "I think one of the strengths we have in this community is that there are opportunities for a lot of public input ... there really looks to be an intent to start to minimize that," she said.

Peck was referring to accompanying recommendations from the council's ordinance subcommittee that the full council consider reducing the number of members of each committee from seven to five; and, eliminate the positions of Town Council liaisons to committees.

The council will discuss those recommendations at a future workshop, but one councilor, Sara Lennon, said she was grateful for the comment. "It's interesting to me that your takeaway from this was that we were trying to decrease citizen input and voice ... because our conversation was just the opposite," said Lennon, a member of the ordinance committee. The idea to do away with Town Council liaisons attending committee meetings was meant to encourage independence. "The fact that your takeaway was the opposite is concerning to me and I think that when we have a workshop on this we should take a close look at that," Lennon said.

Other recommendations the council will consider at a future workshop would assure senior-citizen representation on the Community Services Committee; and, change bylaws of the Thomas Memorial Library Foundation to require two members from the library committee rather than the library trustees.

'Tweaks' to Shooting Range, Conservation ordinances

The council's approval of the new ordinance included related 'tweaks' to two other ordinances: The Conservation Committee's responsibility for open-space evaluation, designated in the boards and commission's ordinance, was moved to the Conservation Ordinance; and the makeup of the Firing Range Committee was changed within the Shooting Range Ordinance so that representation from the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club and from the Cross Hill neighborhood is no longer mandated.

In future meetings, the ordinance committee will look into further revisions to the duties of the Firing Range Committee as outlined in the Shooting Range Ordinance.