Utility plan needs tweak

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen voted Tuesday to ask the Legislature to amend the newly adopted charter for a water and sewer district to eliminate the town manager’s seat on the quasi-municipal agency’s three-member Board of Trustees.

The move comes one week after residents, in a 291-158 vote, adopted the charter which establishes the Southwest Harbor Sewer and Water District.

Under the charter, the town’s water and sewer departments cease to exist. All assets and operations of the departments will shift to the district. Day-to-day operations of the district fall to Steve Kenney, the newly hired superintendent, with oversight provided by the three trustees.

It was the make-up of the trustees that led selectmen to vote 3-1 to amend the charter. Chairman George Jellison cast the opposing vote.

The vote followed a discussion where some residents challenged whether Town Manager Don Lagrange should be one of the trustees. The charter does not specifically name Lagrange. It simply states that one of the trustees be the town manager. The other two are to be residents.

Resident Jim Snow said he believes the town manager sitting as a trustee is a potential conflict of interest. If Lagrange were to be a trustee, he should recuse himself from any vote the board makes, he added.

The issue of the town manager serving as trustee was raised by residents during public hearings. Snow reminded Lagrange that one of the attorneys hired by the town to write the charter stated at one hearing that he, too, was uncomfortable with the arrangement. He preferred the town manager to be an ex officio not a trustee.

Lagrange defended his role.

“It’s a good tie-in between the town and district,” he said, explaining that his presence would help ease the transition. Some who feel otherwise might be making the issue personal, he added.

“I think some people are directing that at me,” he said.

As objections mounted, Lagrange capitulated.

“I’d be very happy to go the Legislature and ask them to amend the charter,” he said. “Until that happens, I’ll be on the board. I’m anxious as heck now to get off it.”

Amending the charter requires approval of the Legislature and well as a town meeting vote. The process will include public hearings. Lagrange said he would take the matter to the Legislature in the spring.

In a related matter, selectmen will advertise to find the other two trustees.

Voters last week turned down 245-203 a proposal to buy the Knote property on the Shore Road for $600,000. Town officials planned to develop a paid parking lot on the site to ease parking issues near the Manset Town Dock.

The issue of the Knote property resurfaced Tuesday. Lagrange suggested the purchase be put before voters a second time at the annual town meeting in May.

“I’m not too sure we did a good job in explaining to people what needs to be done for economic development here,” Lagrange said.

Lagrange and some selectmen argue that the waterfront is the economic engine of the town. More parking is needed to encourage greater use of the resource.

Selectmen made no decision. The item is to be on the agenda for their Nov. 24 meeting.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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