County charter explored

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — The departure last month of Hancock County Administrator Gene Conlogue after a year in office has prompted members of the Acadia-area League of Towns to renew their call for creation of a commission to possibly recommend the adoption of a county charter.

A charter, which specifies the structure of county government, would have to be approved by voters.

Only a few counties in Maine currently have charters. For the rest, the structure of government is determined by the Maine Constitution and state law.

One difference is that in counties without a charter, certain county officials are elected rather than appointed. That dilutes the authority of the county administrator, Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt said at Tuesday’s League of Towns meeting at Acadia National Park headquarters.

“As it is, the administrator is somewhat handcuffed by the fact that some department heads are elected,” Lunt said. “They are a power unto themselves and are not about to follow directions from a county administrator.”

In Hancock County, voters elect the sheriff, district attorney, treasurer, judge of probate and register of deeds and probate.

The League of Towns board, made up of officials of 10 municipalities in the region, has been discussing the idea of a charter commission for several years.

Lunt said Tuesday that the goal would be to look at ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of county government.

“Maybe a charter commission would look at it and say this is, next to heaven, the best form of government anyone could have,” Lunt said.

But he and other board members expressed doubt that a charter commission would come to that conclusion.

They said a charter commission could look at the size of the county commission, which currently has three members, and at whether commissioners should be elected on a partisan basis.

“You could be missing an opportunity to put some good people into office just because they belong to one political party or another,” Lunt said.

Fred Ehrlenbach, chairman of the Trenton Board of Selectmen, said a charter also could establish eligibility criteria for certain county offices. For example, he said, an appointed treasurer could be required to have at least some experience in finance.

Tremont Town Manager Dana Reed said he would like the county to take over certain functions that are now carried out by the municipalities.

“As it is, every town has to have a certified [property tax] assessor, either working full-time or contracted,” he said. “In most places in the country, the assessing is done county-wide. I think tax collecting is another great example.”

Hancock County Clerk Cynthia DePrenger told the League of Towns board that some functions could and should be centralized and handled by the county.

“And I know the commissioners believe you are 100 percent correct on that,” she said.

DePrenger attended the League of Towns board meeting at the request of the county commissioners to solicit their opinions on the idea of establishing a charter commission.

Commissioner Steven Joy said that he is not opposed to having a county charter. Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown said he didn’t think it was needed and feared that a charter could diminish the influence of small towns. Commissioner Antonio Blasi took no position on the question of a charter.

Lunt said he thought it would be “irresponsible” of the commissioners not to create a charter commission. But if they don’t, several members of the League of Towns board said they would consider organizing a petition drive to put the question on the ballot at a future election, perhaps this November.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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