May 24, 2019

Changes would help Bangor and its City Council

As a candidate for Bangor City Council, I am delighted that we have more individuals running in this year’s election than in recent years. Perhaps this signifies a renewed interest in participation in our city government. I truly hope so. There are many qualified citizens who could serve our city well on the council or school committee who have never tossed their names into the hat.

I believe sincerely that some of the reasons for this are the time and effort required to obtain 150 voter signatures on nomination papers and the ever-increasing costs of running an effective campaign. The cost of having signs made, printing campaign literature, postage and not least of all the cost of gasoline needed to get around our city are a discouragement to many who would run if they could only afford to. We need to do something about this.

One of the ideas I have long espoused is that we change the way we elect our city councilors. Rather than requiring everyone to run “at large,” why can’t we amend the charter to provide for four councilors to be elected by district and the remaining five to be elected at-large? This would reduce the cost and time now required of candidates who may have family and work obligations which prevent them from running a citywide campaign.

“Oh, this would result in different sections of the city vying against each other for special interests” is the argument I always hear. I don’t buy this. With five members of the council elected at large there would always be an effective counterbalance to any one area of the city having its way at the expense of others. In fact, there would be eight other councilors who would provide that balance.

I also wonder why council candidates are required to obtain 150 valid signatures for their nomination papers while candidates for school committee need only 100. It seems to me that 100 signatures should be adequate for both school committee and council candidates. It certainly would save time and energy for everyone, including the staff in the city clerk’s office.

I have been especially concerned about the frequency of absenteeism at council meetings. Too often there are seven or fewer members present. And when even one member is absent, an issue of major importance could fail to pass because of a tie vote. If a person wants to represent the people of Bangor, that person should be present at every meeting possible, and adjust his or her other commitments to accommodate that obligation. If elected, I certainly intend to be present and accountable for my votes. An empty chair cannot vote and serves no one! (Between 1983 and 1986, I missed only three council meetings.)

I am also concerned about the time consumed by the number of comments made during council meetings that are irrelevant to the business at hand. I believe meetings with heavy agendas could be shortened by at least 30 to 45 minutes if the chair exercised his or her authority to limit these casual, offhand comments to a minimum. With the heavy workload on council members, there is no reason to prolong meetings unnecessarily.

Our city charter is overdue for a review and update. I urge the next council to appoint a charter review committee to accomplish this.

The time has also come to do away with “associate member” status on the planning board. Expand the board’s membership to seven and let every member have full voting privileges. We are in a period of accelerated development in Bangor and the decisions of the planning board are too critical to be decided by only five votes, especially when the ratio of passage or defeat is only 3-2.

I am running for council this year because the experience I have gained in public service over the last 35 years has convinced me that we need to streamline the way we do the people’s business. If elected, that will be one of my major objectives.

Harold A. Wheeler is a candidate for City Council on the Nov. 6 ballot.

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