MOUNT DESERT — The date of this year’s Town Meeting is still up in the air, but where and how it will be conducted has been decided.
The Board of Selectmen voted Monday to hold a “drive-in” town meeting in a parking lot at Mount Desert Island High School, much as Bar Harbor did June 30.
Originally scheduled for early May, Town Meeting was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It now appears likely it will be held in late August or early September.
“I’ve been getting an earful from various quarters about why we aren’t scheduling our Town Meeting,” Board of Selectmen Chairman John Macauley said at Monday’s board meeting.
Phil Lichtenstein, chairman of the warrant committee, said, “Our town is ready for Town Meeting. I think it’s really important that we move forward on [approval of] the budget so the elementary school and the town can do the business that is needed.”
Macauley agreed, saying, “I’m a little concerned about the school budget. They need to have their budget ratified in time to be able to spend the money they need to spend in the fall.”
Lichtenstein noted that the town’s sustainability committee, of which he is also chairman, had wanted residents to vote on a “climate emergency” resolution that would commit the town to working toward achieving zero carbon emissions by the end of 2031. The selectmen agreed last month to have that voted on at Town Meeting, but because that occurred after the warrant had been approved, a public hearing on the climate resolution would have been required.
Lichtenstein said Monday that, given the delay that would cause, the climate resolution vote should be postponed to a future Town Meeting.
“It’s a disappointment to the youth that worked on it…but I think it’s more important that our schools go back and our budgets have a chance to move forward,” he said.
Selectmen voted to remove the climate resolution from the town meeting warrant.
Town Manager Durlin Lunt said, “Without adding that citizen’s initiative on the climate, we could certainly accelerate the [Town Meeting] process. We should be able to push it up considerably, given that.”
But Treasurer Kathy Mahar and others noted that, because of public notice requirement and all the work that goes into preparing for the meeting, there will need to be at least three or four weeks between the time the selectmen vote to schedule the meeting and the date it is held.
Given that, Lichtenstein suggested Town Meeting be held the Tuesday after Labor Day.
Lunt said that, at the selectmen’s July 20 meeting, he would recommend some possible dates for meeting for them to consider.
As for how the meeting will be conducted, Lunt and others said they had heard that Bar Harbor’s experiment with a drive-in meeting at the high school had gone well. It was modeled on the high school’s June 7 graduation ceremony.
“It went smoothly,” Mount Desert and Bar Harbor Police Chief Jim Willis said of the Bar Harbor Town Meeting.
“[To vote], people just stay in their car and hold a card up out the window and (the moderator) makes a judgement call on whether it passes or fails.”
Mount Desert’s town charter stipulates that at least 50 registered voters must be present for any business to be conducted at a Town Meeting. Concerned that fewer people might take part in a drive-in meeting, Selectman Martha Dudman asked if there was any way the 50-voter requirement could be waived. Lunt said he thought that was a possibility and would look into it.
Mount Desert’s annual Town Meeting, which is usually held in the gym at Mount Desert Elementary School, often lasts two or three hours.
“I know there are some who really appreciate sort of the pomp and circumstance of Town Meeting and all that goes into it,” Selectman Matt Hart said. “But if we have the ability to group (warrant articles) together in blocks…I don’t want to use the word fast in conducting Town Meeting, but it needs to be as efficient as possible.”
Lunt agreed: “These are extraordinary times. I don’t think it’s realistic for people to have the anticipation that things are going to be exactly the way they are in a normal year because, God knows, this is not a normal year.
“We’ll try to make it as good and as recognizable as possible, but it’s not going to be exactly the same.”