TREMONT — Plans for a special town meeting in March are up in the air after proposed changes to the harbor management ordinance drew fire from fishermen Tuesday at a public hearing.
Town officials were proposing a March 6 special town meeting for voters to consider amendments to the harbor management ordinance, a rewritten wharf and facilities ordinance and a newly created ordinance for the Bass Harbor Memorial Library.
During their regular meeting Tuesday, which followed the hearing, selectmen voted 5-0 to table any scheduling of that meeting until the Harbor Committee can meet to discuss whether to make further changes to the harbor management ordinance before sending it on to residents.
In December, selectmen, at the urging of Harbormaster Justin Seavey and Harbor Committee members, voted to hold the special town meeting instead of waiting for the annual meeting in May so that, if approved by voters, the ordinances regarding the harbor and wharf would be in effect for the spring boating season. Waiting until May would mean the new ordinances would not be in effect until 2018.
The decision not to wait until the annual meeting was just one of the concerns voiced Tuesday by fishermen David Schlaefer and Dean Wass. Selectman Stewart Murphy, who was absent from the December meeting, also objected.
“I didn’t see anything so pressing that we need a special town meeting,” Schlaefer said. Special town meetings routinely are poorly attended, and there is no need for the ordinances to be “pushed through with a handful of votes.”
Attorney James Collier, who developed the ordinance changes in conjunction with the Harbor Committee, reiterated the desire on the committee’s part to have the changes in effect this year.
“It would essentially delay the implementation until 2018,” Collier said.
Schlaefer also questioned the elimination of a review of mooring placement by the Harbor Committee. In the proposed ordinance, this job falls solely on the harbormaster.
Citing the large number of turnovers in harbormasters in the town over the years, Collier replied that the change was made to give more authority to the harbormaster. Schlaefer wasn’t swayed.
“What’s wrong with another layer of transparency and continuity,” he argued. “It’s not stepping on the harbormaster’s toes.”
Town Manager Dana Reed said the appeals process for decisions made by the harbormaster provides “that oversight.”
“One of the problems I’ve seen here is everybody wants to tell the harbormaster how to do his job,” Reed said.
Harbor Committee member Haywood May pointed out that mooring assignments come before the committee anyway, and therefore, there is opportunity for input.
Wass took issue with proposed changes to the makeup of the Harbor Committee, who appoints the harbormaster and the window for appealing decisions of the harbormaster.
All Harbor Committee members must be residents of the town. The proposed ordinance requires that one member be either the owner of or employed by a boat storage or repair business using the harbors. Wass objected to the elimination of the requirement that the business must be located in the town, arguing that someone working for an out-of-town business might not represent the best interests of the town.
Reed said the committee was more concerned about that member having the experience of working on boats and being in that business. Committee member Art Paine agreed.
“It was more about the skills than anything related to residency,” he said.
In the proposed ordinance, the harbormaster is appointed by the town manager instead of the Board of Selectmen. Wass questioned this change.
Reed said under the town manager form of government, state law provides that the town manager appoints all town employees.
“It’s a simple chain of command,” he said.
“That’s just the way it has to be,” May said. “Otherwise, it’s untenable.”
If the harbormaster or other employee is not doing his or her job properly and the town manager is ignoring the issue, there is recourse, Reed said.
“If you have an employee so bad, you can get rid of the town manager,” he said. Selectmen do have “the ultimate control,” he added; the town manager answers to the board.
The proposed ordinance also states that anyone adversely affected by the assignment of the locations for moorings, floats and lobster cars can appeal that decision to the Harbor Committee “no later that April 1 of each year.” These locations would be approved or disapproved by the harbormaster on or before March 1 of the year. An appeal must be filed within 30 days of the permit being issued.
Wass argued that the window for an appeal is too narrow.
The public hearing on the harbor management ordinance ended after almost two hours of discussion. The Harbor Committee is expected to consider making any changes to the proposed ordinance at their Jan. 26 meeting.
The major objection to the proposed wharf and facilities ordinance was the elimination of a fee structure for use of the Bernard Wharf and Seal Cove Ramp and puts those decisions in the hands of selectmen. Collier said the intent is to make it easier to change fees when warranted. Otherwise, he said, a town meeting would have to be held for voters to approve of any changes.