BAR HARBOR — A proposal to require that members of the Town Council annually submit in writing a list of any nonprofit organizations or private companies for which councilors sit on a Board of Directors or have an ownership stake, as well as any current employment, was rejected last week in a divided vote.
The proposal was one of three changes to the council’s Rules of Order suggested by Councilor Erin Cough, who requested a review of the rules for the council’s Jan. 7 meeting. The discussion was tabled to the Jan. 21 meeting.
The vote on requiring board affiliation disclosure was 4-3, but a change to the Rules of Order requires five votes in the affirmative, so the proposal was not adopted. Councilors Stephen Coston, Matt Hochman, Jill Goldthwait and Erin Cough voted in favor of the change and Gary Friedmann, Jeff Dobbs and Joe Minutolo voted against it.
Friedmann said he would find the requirement “cumbersome, intrusive and unnecessary,” arguing that it’s easy to find such information online. “It seems like we’re setting a precedent that’s awkward.”
Cough responded that it may be helpful to residents to have the information all in one place in the town office, as opposed to having to search for it.
Dobbs argued that councilors already have the responsibility to disclose any appearance of a conflict of interest under the ethics ordinance.
The other two proposed changes to the Rules of Order were a requirement that the council review its policies at the first full agenda of the fiscal year, which was approved, and a change to the rules for public comments at council meetings, which was rejected.
A public comment period was added as a standing agenda item for Town Council meetings in 2012 and the procedures governing it were amended in 2015. The period is held at the beginning of the meeting and the public is invited to speak on “any item not on the agenda and not in litigation” for a maximum of three minutes.
Councilors discussed moving the public comment period to the end of the meeting, and how to regulate public comment on agenda items. Cough had proposed allowing public comment only by affirmative vote of the councilors present. Currently, such comment is allowed at the discretion of the chairman.
“Our objective is not to be a [public opinion] surveyor, it’s to get stuff done,” said Coston. At the Jan. 7 meeting, he argued that if people don’t know ahead of time whether the council will allow public comment on a given agenda item, “it creates sort of an anxious environment.”
Hochman agreed, saying that except for advertised public hearings, “it really isn’t fair to just take comment from the people who happen to be here.”
“I can’t think of a better way to do it than the way it is now,” Goldthwait said.
Motions to make changes to the rules governing public comment failed.