Town pursues change to municipal election dates

by Geoff Fox

Town officials held two meetings last week – a special town meeting on Wednesday night and public hearing on Thursday – in preparation to make a change to the town’s charter involving the date of the municipal election from January to April.

Officials voted to proceed with the recommendation for the charter change during the December town meeting. The language for the change was presented and approved during the special meeting last Wednesday, January 2.

A public hearing on Thursday, January 3 moved officials one step closer to shifting Hancock’s election date from late January to the third Monday in April. The 2021 town election would be the first to be affected by the change.

According to Section 32 of the Hancock Town Charter, officials put the January election date in effect in January 1973.

The proposed change to section 32 of the Hancock Town Charter would read:

“Beginning in 2021, the Election of Mayor and certain members of the Council shall occur on the third Monday of April in each odd numbered year. At the election to be held April 19, 2021 and every two years thereafter, the Mayor shall be elected whose term in office shall be for two years or until his successor is duly qualified. At the election of April 19, 2021, two council members with a term of four years will be elected to succeed those Council members whose terms expire in 2021. All Council members shall serve a term of office for four years or until their successors are duly qualified.”

During the Wednesday meeting, Mayor Ralph Salvagno said the terms for both mayor and council would remain the same.

However, there was discussion of making the mayor’s term for four years.

Salvagno said the mayor’s two-year term makes the position more independent of the candidates running for office.

At the meeting last Wednesday, four of the candidates running for office were in attendance and were part of the discussion.

David Kerns, who is running for town council, said it’s a good idea to keep the elections offset in the odd years.

Salvagno and Councilman Tim Boyer both said this could cause issues as the mayoral candidate and council candidates could form a union to be against the other two sitting members.

During the public hearing the following evening, only two people signed up to speak and both were in favor of the date change and a four-year mayor term.

Marian Golden spoke first saying the change is a wonderful idea and long overdue, especially for senior citizens to be able to get out to vote without worrying about the weather.

“I think you’ll get a better turnout,” she said.

Golden also supported the four-year term for mayor because it takes time for officials to get used to the ins and outs of the position in the first two years.

“Two years is not a fair time for an elected mayor to fulfill all the platforms and desires he wishes to accomplish in his term,” Golden said.

Former councilman and current mayoral candidate Nigel Dardar agreed with Golden that the change was overdue to get the election out of the winter.

“I am very much appreciative of you guys for taking this step,” Dardar said.

Over the course of years, Dardar has been outspoken about changing the election date from the winter to a spring date.

Dardar also agreed the mayor should serve a four-year term.

Salvagno noted it wasn’t solely the idea of the sitting council as Dardar had brought it forward numerous times. The change has been brought up during past councils and voted down.

“I just wanted to express my personal gratitude to Mr. Dardar for, again, being very persistent about bringing this before the town,” Salvagno said. “I think it will be a very good thing for all the citizens.”

Town Manager David Smith said there would be a place on the town’s website where people can leave comments on the proposed date change in the town charter.

The link to the proposed charter change and comment section is located under the “Open Bids” tab of the town’s website.

Smith also said people can drop off written comments at Town Hall as well.

Smith said council will introduce formal resolution to repeal the original election date ordinance, and then a new resolution creating section 32 with the changes.

When asked if the ordinance would be ready for the January town meeting, Smith said he doubt it would be as there’s no need to rush it through.

“In the interest of transparency, you take time for something like this,” he said noting a charter change is a lot bigger deal than a simple resolution.

A second public hearing is to be held tonight, Wednesday, January 9, during the town meeting. A comment period that will also be open between that meeting and the February town meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday, February 13. Officials will vote on the charter change during that meeting.