BAR HARBOR– Members of the Bar Harbor Town Council met virtually for a special town meeting on Oct. 6 to accept public comment on charter modifications ahead of a Nov. 3 vote seeking to change the town’s governing document.
The proposed modifications 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 a townspeople 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.”
The meeting, sparsely attended by the public, also gave councilors another chance to address the community and offer additional thoughts on the proposed changes that were developed by a separate Charter Commission over a span of a year.
While some of the nine articles garnered no discussion at all, some, like Article 2, which seeks to “clarify the recording of recommendations on Town Warrants and Ballots, change the Warrant Committee’s responsibilities to consideration of the Municipal Budget and Land Use Ordinance amendments and remove review and recommendations of Citizen Initiative and Referendum from the Town Council, Warrant Committee, School Committee and Planning Board, as presented in the Town Meeting Warrant,” garnered much discussion.
According to the proposed changes, the Warrant Committee would continue to review the municipal budget and any proposed amendments to the Land Use Ordinance, but it would no longer review or make recommendations on the elementary school budget.
A review of Article 4, which, if passed by voters, would “allow the Town Council to amend the Land Use Ordinance when an amendment is procedural or minor in that it seeks to correct, modify or reconcile inconsistencies, contradictions and errors or to bring the Land Use Ordinance into compliance with statutes, after it has first been recommended by the town planner, discussed at public hearings and recommended by a supermajority of both the Planning Board and Town Council, as presented in the Town Meeting Warrant.” The proposed change left at least one resident asking for the definition of “minor.” Resident Dessa Dancy said she did not believe the word “minor” was clearly defined.
Councilors explained that these “minor” changes could only be approved if the change was recommended by the town planner, reviewed by the Planning Board, subject to a public meeting, reviewed by the council and then adopted by a two-thirds supermajority of the council. New and substantial amendments would continue to be adopted by voters through the town meeting process.
A proposal to shrink the size of the Warrant Committee from 22 to 15 members will be taken up in Article 8. This suggested change would also increase the length of term from one to three years. With the majority of committee work happening via subcommittees, council members said the change would not only bring the election and treatment of the Warrant Committee in line without elected officials, but it would also encourage work to be done by the entire board rather than through a subcommittee approach.
Bar Harbor voters will see all nine proposed changes on the ballot Nov. 3. Elections will be held in the Municipal Building Auditorium, 3rd floor, 93 Cottage Street. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Correction: This story has been updated to remove a quote erroneously attributed to Jake Jagel. We apologize for the error.