Town meetings at schools? We’ll see

BAR HARBOR — Springtime is when people typically gather in their local elementary school gyms for their annual town meetings. 

But very little about this spring has been typical. Town meetings have been postponed. And whenever they are finally held, it might not be in the schools. 

At least three area town managers have looked into the possibility of holding their town meetings at Mount Desert Island High School, which has more space than the elementary schools. 

But as of now, all the schools in the MDI Regional School System are closed to all outside uses all summer. 

“At the present time, all of our school buildings/facilities/grounds and parking areas are secured, off limits to the general public,” Superintendent Marc Gousse said last week in an email to the Islander. 

He said he is open to considering requests from town officials to hold town meetings at schools. However, he said, “there would be no access to restrooms or any other components of our facilities due to sanitation and the significant potential for exposure [to the coronavirus].” 

Gousse also pointed out that, according to Gov. Janet Mills’ plan for a phased loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, gatherings of more than 50 people will continue to be prohibited through August. 

That could be an obstacle for all the area towns. Bar Harbor’s Town Meeting has been rescheduled for June 30, and Town Manager Cornell Knight said last week that he hoped it could be held at the high school with, for example, 50 people in the gym, 50 in the auditorium and 50 in the cafeteria. 

But Gousse told the Islander on Tuesday, To my knowledge, any public event is limited in total to 50 individuals within any entire facility and grounds. Any gathering of greater numbers, even in different venues within any school facility or campus, would violate the Governor’s executive order.” 

Knight told the Bar Harbor Town Council Tuesday night that he had been told the same thing. 

This is frankly ridiculous,” he said. We could hold a safe meeting, whether inside or outside. 

I’ve got to believe that there’s going to be some guidelines [from the state] for the 200 towns that are looking at open town meetings, whether that does allow it outside, allows it by drive-in, allows it by video conference, somehow.  

“Hopefully, next week we get some direction that allows us to accomplish it in some form.” 

Tremont officials have not settled on a new date or location for their Town Meeting. Town Manager Chris Saunders and members of the board of selectmen said Monday night that they would like to hold it at the high school. 

Southwest Harbor’s Town Meeting has been rescheduled for July 13, and Town Manager Justin VanDongen said he hoped it could be held at the high school. 
Discussing the matter with the board of selectmen last Tuesday, he said the fact that the school’s restrooms would be off limits could present a problem. 

“It’s a long meeting,” he noted dryly. 

When someone suggested the town could take porta-potties to the high school, board member Chad Terry said, “It is just moving the [COVID-19] disease to a different place.” 

The Trenton Town Meeting has not yet been rescheduled. Neither has Mount Desert’s, and Town Manager Durlin Lunt said it will not be held until sometime in August at the earliest. The Town Charter specifies that at least 50 registered voters must be present at any town meeting for business to be conducted. 

Liz Graves and Sarah Hinckley contributed to this story. 




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]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.