BAR HARBOR — A rule limiting public comments at the town council’s public hearings to three minutes each was reaffirmed last week.
The council reviewed its regular rules of order at the request of Councilor Matthew Hochman, who suggested the council change the rules it is not adhering to. He brought up the example of using a time clock during public hearings, which is in the rules but not currently practiced.
Council chair Gary Friedman suggested modifying the time-clock rule to allow it at the chair’s or council’s discretion. “I’ve had mixed responses to [the clock],” he said. “There are a lot of people who are kind of intimidated by that thing, and there are other people that just ignore it.
“I’m open to doing what you guys want,” he continued. “In most cases, there aren’t so many people wanting to speak that it’s bad for them to go a minute over.”
Councilor Erin Cough spoke in favor of consistently using the clock. “I have recently watched meetings where there was no countdown clock,” she said. “one person was able to speak for eight minutes, and the next person who stood up was asked to sit down after barely being given three minutes. I think the countdown clock makes it an equal playing field: gives everyone the equal amount of time.”
Councilor Judie Noonan agreed, saying, “We need consistency. If you [use a clock] sometimes and don’t… other times, that’s when you get people feeling like they’re being picked on, or singled out.”
Hochman pointed out that the rules of order specifically refer to the type of clock council should use, which marks the time using the colors green, yellow, and red. This, according to Friedmann, was a program used by former chair Paul Paradis, who was on an excused absence from the meeting.
Town clerk Sharon Linscott offered to share a simple countdown clock program used by the charter commission. The clock is set up on a laptop to be visible to speakers, Linscott said. “It’s not obnoxious, but it does flash when the time is up.”
Council voted unanimously to take out the reference to green, yellow, and red from the rules of order, maintaining the rest of the rule about the time clock to be used at each public hearing.
In the same motion, councilors also voted to give themselves the authority to lay a motion on the table for any reason, as is the council’s practice. This was a modification of the rules of order which stated motions could only be tabled “for prior consideration of other urgent business.”