SOUTHWEST HARBOR—At the request of a resident and future business owner in town, members of the Board of Selectmen agreed to consider adopting a conduct policy that would outline appropriate behavior for members of the town’s boards and committees.
Natasha Johnson, who recently went before the town’s Planning Board with a site plan review application for a marijuana retail store she and her husband, Tyler Johnson, are opening, requested the item be placed on the meeting’s agenda.
“This request arose out of an interesting exchange with a member of the Planning Board,” explained Board of Selectman Chairman Kristin Hutchins, who had attended that meeting. “I would say the conversation got heated… I would invite this board to set a standard for committee members and boards to conduct themselves during meetings.”
According to Johnson’s explanation of the situation that prompted the request, a member of the Planning Board stated they would vote against the application “no matter what.”
“It’s the duty of board members to uphold the ordinance,” said Hutchins, adding the board member ended up recusing themselves from the vote. “There’s certainly a potential to open ourselves up for liability at some point.”
Coincidentally, an argument erupted during the Harbor Committee meeting on May 10 at which two members raised their voices and pelted another member with profanities.
“[That] meeting, from what I hear, is a glorious example of why this policy is necessary,” said Hutchins.
In order to give the Board of Selectmen an idea of what a conduct policy would or could entail, Johnson shared a copy of Tremont’s version.
“I don’t believe we should be adopting another town’s agreement,” said Selectman George Jellison, who had attended the Harbor Committee meeting.
Hutchins asked him to describe how the meeting went. Jellison focused on what he saw as disrespectful behavior towards the committee’s outgoing chair, Anne Napier.
“I have some concerns about it but I’m not sure this is the direction we need to go,” he said, adding that an attorney had been hired years ago to speak with members of the boards and committees regarding conduct and rules. “I don’t believe this is the solution because it’s not enforceable.”
Johnson then asked if there was a way to remove someone serving on a board or committee.
“If you have a board or committee member who says, ‘I don’t care what my legal obligation is, I’m not going to do it,’ it’s concerning,” she said. “It’s regardless of what topic it’s on. I sent this forward because I felt like it would be a good thing for the town… I was more concerned with integrity being called into question.”
Town Manager Dana Reed weighed in, telling the board, “You have the ability, and I would argue the responsibility, to require those you appoint to behave appropriately.”
Members of the board said they would look over the Tremont Conduct Policy and offer additions or edits to create one more specific to Southwest Harbor and take it up at a future meeting.
“I would challenge us to say this is a minimal standard we can hold ourselves to,” said Hutchins.