HERMON, Maine — Should residents be allowed to bypass the Town Council and vote to fire the town manager them-selves?
That’s the question voters must decide in November’s general election, and if the pro-posed town charter amendment is passed, both proponents and opponents agree that it would be a major change for Hermon.
At the moment only the council can remove the town manager, who is not elected to office.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Councilman Robin Hall said Wednesday of the proposed amendment. “It’s against what the town manager plan is all about. He’s not voted into of-fice. He has a job that he’s hired for. To have a vote like this circumvents all the safeties that are in place.”
Town Manager Clint Deschene said that since he was named in a lawsuit brought by the pro-charter amendment folks, he was leaving it in the hands of the council. He does hope that there will be a big turnout at an coming public hearing about the proposed charter amendment.
“I’m not going to get overly involved in the issue,” Deschene said. “But this is a big election … and the more people involved in local government, the better the process works.”
The charter amendment would allow any five registered voters to circulate petition forms if they want to remove the manager. This kind of peti-tion would require the number of signatures to exceed 10 per-cent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, which is 208. After the signatures are collected, residents would vote in a municipal election to de-cide whether they would ter-minate the town manager, ac-cording to Louis “Buzzy” LaChance, a former councilor and leader of the charter amendment drive.
“When you get a council that is pro-town manager — and a lot of people feel that he isn’t doing the right job — it’s more of a problem to get the council recalled,” LaChance said.
The lifelong Hermon resident said that he thinks that voter apathy is getting in the way of the democratic process.
“I don’t think most people know what’s going on finan-cially in this town,” he said.
Specifically, LaChance brought up the town’s practice of putting any budget surplus dollars into a special “slush” fund instead of rolling the sur-plus over into the next year’s budget.
“In my opinion, it’s not right,” he said. “They can spend it at special town meetings when only special-interest groups show up.”
LaChance and others first circulated the petition to change the town charter in the summer of 2007. The town’s attorney advised councilors that fall not to put the charter amendment out to a public vote.
At the time, attorney Tim Pease of the Rudman & Win-chell law firm said that the proposed amendment had ma-jor flaws and would be legally invalid.
But a Penobscot County Su-perior Court judge recently ruled that the charter amend-ment could make it to the bal-lot. The town was challenging this decision but dropped its appeal earlier this week. Never-theless, town officials are hop-ing that voters will “over-whelmingly” decide against the charter amendment.
“I think it’s just legally flawed and personally moti-vated, and it just doesn’t have any place in the town,” said Councilor Alden Brown.
The public hearing on the proposed amendment will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, at Hermon High School. Copies of the amendment and related materials are available at the town office and on the town Web site, www.hermon.net.