Amendment proposed for voting board member requirements

BAR HARBOR—The Town Council is pondering a tweak to its board and committee rules that would clear up a discrepancy about voting members owning multiple properties and allow members to be as young as 15.  

A May 4 public hearing on the amendments could mark the latest evolution of who can and cannot be a voting member on town boards in Bar Harbor. The council is proposing to strike a provision that says all voting members of boards, committees and commissions that are appointed by the Bar Harbor Town Council cannot have another residence and need to be physically present in town.  

The new language would allow voting members to be anyone who is at least 15 years old and a resident of Bar Harbor.  

Previously, boards often had people who either didn’t live in town or who weren’t registered voters of the town, including industry experts on the Cruise Ship Committee and the director of the YMCA on the Parks and Recreation Committee.  

In 2019, a citizen’s initiative that required voting board members to be registered voters in town passed with a 2-1 margin. The change was spurred by Bar Harbor resident Charles Sidman and many saw it as a way to disrupt the Cruise Ship Committee as part of Sidman’s fight against cruises coming to town.  

In November, the council voted to ditch the registered voter requirement, changing the rules to allow a person to be a voting member on a board if they were a resident of Bar Harbor who had no other residences and were physically present in town. A person who wasn’t a resident in town could be appointed to a board but couldn’t vote. 

Sidman complained that the current language is unconstitutional because it bars residents from serving on boards if they own another residence, even if they are officially a resident in Bar Harbor.  

The town didn’t buy that argument, with the town’s attorney saying Sidman’s interpretation of residence was “mistaken” because a person can have only one established residency, no matter how many properties they own. 

“Mr. Sidman’s interpretation conflates legal residency with ownership of a physical residence…Mr. Sidman may have multiple residences, but he has only one residency as a matter of law,” attorney Edmond Bearor wrote in a March letter to Sidman’s lawyer.   

But the council did decide that it would consider new language to “clear up any potential confusion” as well as lower the age requirement to 15 to allow a high schooler who has been working on climate change issues to serve in a voting capacity on the Task Force on the Climate Emergency. 

“We came up with a definition of resident that we felt was appropriate,” council member Matthew Hochman wrote in an email to the Islander. “The original author of the citizen’s petition did not agree with our changes. The current hearing is simply to change the language to address his concerns and to make the definition of resident more clear.” 

This change would still require voting board members to be residents of Bar Harbor but allows for the participation of residents who can or do not vote for a number of reasons, Hochman wrote.  

While Sidman did not agree with the underlying change from the previous registered voter requirement, saying it went against the will of the voters, he was on board with this potential fix. 

“At least (the proposed amendment) doesn’t disenfranchise people who have a property somewhere else,” he said. “I think it should pass. Now having said that, I don’t think it’s really right.”  

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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