Officials call for county charter

MOUNT DESERT — The fact that no one filed to run for treasurer of Hancock County in the Nov. 6 election has prompted members of the Acadia-area League of Towns to renew their call for a county charter that might provide for the appointment of some officials who are currently elected.

Janice Eldridge, who has served as treasurer for eight years, is not running for re-election. Because no one filed to run for the job, there are no names on the ballot.

However, Eldridge said Tuesday that two people have declared they are running as write-in candidates. They are Pamela Linscott of Gouldsboro, who is the finance coordinator in the treasurer’s office, and Michael Boucher of Sorrento, a corrections officer at the Hancock County Jail.

“It’s bad to have the county treasurer be a write-in candidate,” Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt, who is chairman of the League of Towns board, said at the board’s meeting Tuesday in Northeast Harbor.

“It’s bad to have the county treasurer elected, period,” said Stu Marckoon, administrative assistant to the Lamoine Board of Selectmen.

Fred Ehrlenbach, chairman of the Trenton Board of Selectmen, noted that the job of Hancock County registrar of deeds also is up for election in November and that the only candidate is incumbent Julie Curtis.

“There doesn’t seem to be any interest for anybody to run,” he said.

The job of registrar of probate, which is not up for election this year, is another one that League officials said probably should be an appointed position.

Elected officials from municipalities that belong to the League of Towns voted at their annual meeting last week to make “developing a county charter” a top priority in the coming year.

“I think they were worried about elected officials not running and [offices being filled by] write-in votes,” Lunt said. “How can you have a treasurer handling all that money who doesn’t have any financial background?”

Members of the League’s board agreed to discuss at their November meeting the specific issues they would like a charter commission to address. Then, they said, they would send a letter to the county commissioners asking them to appoint a charter commission.

If the commissioners decline to do so, the League of Towns could initiate a citizen petition drive to force the formation of a charter commission.

In March 2014, the League of Towns asked the county commissioners to appoint a charter commission to look at, among other things, creating the position of county manager. The commissioners didn’t create a charter commission, but they did create the position of county administrator.

Then, in January 2016, League members renewed their call for a commission to study the potential advantages of a county charter.

Only a few of Maine’s 16 counties 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 officials are elected rather than appointed.

“As it is, the [Hancock County] administrator is somewhat handcuffed by the fact that some department heads are elected,” Lunt said at the 2016 League meeting. “They are a power unto themselves and are not about to follow directions from a county administrator.”

Lunt said the goal of a charter commission 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 that this is, next to heaven, the best form of government anyone could have,” he said.

But he and other members of the League’s board expressed doubt that a charter commission would reach that conclusion.

They said that, in addition to recommending which county officials should be appointed instead of elected, a charter commission could look at the size of the county commission, which currently has three members, and at whether the commissioners should continue to be elected on a partisan basis.

Any proposed charter for Hancock County would have to be approved by the county’s voters.

Members of the League of Towns include the city of Ellsworth and the towns of Bar Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Lamoine, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Swan’s Island, Tremont and Trenton. Acadia National Park also is a member.

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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