Charter change proposal tweaked



BAR HARBOR — Members of the town’s Charter Commission, which is charged with recommending edits to the town’s governing document, took final votes Monday on all but one of the nine questions they expect to put to the town’s voters in June. They plan to continue editing, and vote on, the remaining question, Question 1, at a meeting planned for Monday, Jan. 27 at 8:30 a.m. in the Town Council chambers.

The proposed changes include changing the size, duties and method of electing the Warrant Committee; changing the process for review of citizen initiatives and referenda; and creating a new process by which minor changes to the Land Use Ordinance could be approved by Town Council vote, rather than requiring a town vote. A minor change is defined in the proposal as one that “seeks to correct, modify or reconcile inconsistencies, contradictions and errors or to bring the Land Use Ordinance into compliance with state statutes pertaining to municipal zoning.”

At a public hearing Monday, Jan. 13, the commission held a public hearing to get feedback on the most recent draft of its final report.

Tuesday morning, commissioners used that feedback to make several changes to the wording of the ballot questions, proposed charter wording itself and explanations in the draft final report.

The report includes a minority report from commissioners who disagree with the recommendations on a few of the questions. At the hearing, resident Michael Good asked why the commission couldn’t come to consensus.

“Obviously the best way to send this to the town for a vote is unanimity on the part of the Charter Commission,” Commissioner Jill Goldthwait said. “We could not get there on a few items.”

Warrant committee

One of the changes made Tuesday brought the commission to consensus on what had been a divided question, meaning at least seven of the nine questions will have unanimous approval.

The proposal to change the size of the Warrant Committee from 22 members to 15 was moved from Question 7 to Question 1. With that change, Commissioner Julie Berberian, who had opposed Question 7, added her support.

At the hearing, several residents asked about the amount of time available for the Warrant Committee to review the budget, and whether that group would be able to continue to work in subcommittees. The recommended charter changes “aren’t disallowing the use of subcommittees,” Commissioner Chris Strout said Tuesday, “but requiring town staff to only have to meet with the full body of the Warrant Committee.”

Currently, Goldthwait said at the hearing, “staff (are) going to lots and lots of meetings and saying basically the same thing. We tried to condense the process without losing the transmission of the information.”

Berberian, who is a member of the Warrant Committee, said, “I think the subcommittee discussion can be decided by the Warrant Committee itself. Mount Desert does not do subcommittees and they have 22 people. I really would like the warrant committee to look at that a topic of discussion.”

Commission Chair Michael Gurtler is a former member and former chair of the Warrant Committee.

On Tuesday, commissioners changed the required timeline for preparation of the budget to give the Town Council and Warrant Committee an additional week to review it.

Citizen initiatives

For citizen initiatives and referenda, the commission recommends ending the practice of having the Town Council and Warrant Committee (and Planning Board, for LUO amendments) vote on whether to recommend approval of the initiative or referendum, and having those votes printed on the ballot. Instead, a public hearing on the proposed change would be held to give voters a chance to hear information pertaining to and arguments for and against the change.

Commissioner Anna Durand said Tuesday that Question 1 should specify that the question would remove consideration of the school budget and citizen initiatives and referenda from the warrant committee’s duties.

“Proper wording of (Question 1) would focus on the fact that we’re removing review duties from the Town Council and Planning Board, not just removing duties from the Warrant Committee,” Strout said.

Number of questions

Initially, the commission expected to present all its changes as a single ballot question, but “when we presented our draft to town council, the question came up of doing separate questions,” Gurtler said at the public hearing.

“The town attorney came back and gave his opinion that we could indeed break them down into questions so that’s what we did.”

At issue, according to residents Dessa Dancy and Arthur Greif, is whether the proposed changes are “minor modifications” and whether the commission is recommending “that the present charter continue in force.”

If any of the changes to the charter are not minor, they argue, state law requires they be presented to voters as a single ballot question.

On Tuesday, Gurtler told the commissioners that Grief had written a letter to the town attorney on that subject.

“Does the town attorney interact with members of the public in general?” Goldthwait asked Town Manager Cornell Knight.

“Not normally,” Knight said.

“If there is interaction with a private citizen rather than an official body, that could get pretty confusing,” Goldthwait said.

The town attorney has not completed an opinion on the current draft of the commission’s report, Gurtler said. If the attorney recommends the proposal be combined into a single question, he said, the commission will do so.

The commission’s Dec. 31, Jan. 14 and Jan. 21 versions of its final report draft are all available on the town’s website, barharbormaine.gov.

 

 

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Liz is an award-winning journalist who has been with the Islander since 2013. She grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor. [email protected]

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