Bar Harbor residents ask judge to strike charter changes

BAR HARBOR—A group of 11 Bar Harbor residents is asking a judge to nullify, on procedural grounds, eight changes to the town’s charter passed by voters in November 

Michael Good, Dessa Dancy, Donna Karlson, Arthur Greif, James Blanchard, Donal Murphy, Pat Murphy, Shaiah Emigh-Doyle, Michael Blythe and Barbara Fenderson question the “validity of the procedures under which the town of Bar Harbor’s charter was amended,” according to court documents filed Dec. 30. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Ellsworth attorney Maxwell Coolidge.  

Town Manager Cornell Knight informed the Town Council last week that it had been served the complaint and that it has been sent to the town’s attorney to prepare a response.  

The complaint lays out four procedural concerns beginning with the manner in which members of the Charter Commission were elected. The complaint states that, according to state law, commission members must be elected in the same manner as municipal officers, which, according to the town’s charter, takes place annually in June. Charter Commission members were elected in November of 2018.  

The complaint also claims that the amendments, taken as a whole, constitute a major revision of the charter and therefore should have been presented as one question rather than nine individual questions. Under state law, minor changes can be given to voters as individual questions, but major changes have to be presented in one article.  

The complaint also contends that the wording of two articles were revised after the Charter Commission had disbanded and that a ballot question asking voters to approve a measure to adopt electronic voting “also provided without notice to the voters that the Annual Town Meeting would be stripped of its exclusive powers under Charter, Section C-6, to act on any ordinances pertaining to the Town’s Land Use Ordinance.  

The last procedural matter to be raised by the plaintiffs contends that the Charter Commission’s report did not go to voters when it should have as required by state law. Citing 30-A of Maine’s statutes, Section 2103(6) states, “When the final report is filed, the municipal officers shall order the proposed new charter or charter revision to be submitted to the voters at the next regular meeting or special municipal election held at least 35 days after the final report is filed.” 

The plaintiffs say the town failed to meet that requirement after the Town Council accepted the report in April but held off a vote until November, rather than holding it at the next meeting, the annual Town Meeting in June.  

One of the 11 plaintiffs, Arthur Greif, who is also a practicing attorney, said he tried to raise the procedural issues ahead of the vote but was unable to change the process.  

Greif said his major concern lies in the loss of absolute authority by voters to make changes to land use ordinances.  

The charter changes, as approved by voters, lay out a process by which minor changes can be made by the town’s planners, Planning Board and council members. Major changes would still need to come before voters. 

Faith DeAmbrose

Faith DeAmbrose

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander

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