Voters back charter commission

BAR HARBOR — With 65 percent of registered voters weighing in on the November local election, the town is set to form a commission to consider substantive changes to its governing document.

The creation of a charter commission was approved by a vote of 1,624 to 937, according to official results released at midnight by Town Clerk Sharon Linscott.

Six members were elected to the commission on the same ballot: Peter St. Germain, Martha Searchfield, Patricia Samuel, Joseph Cough, Michael Gurtler and Christopher Strout. Write-in candidate Julie Berberian received 93 votes, but was not elected to the commission.

Three additional charter commission members will be appointed by the town council. According to state statute, the council must appoint additional members within 30 days of the election.

Town Manager Cornell Knight said the appointments will likely be made at the Dec. 4 town council meeting.

The commission will review the 25-page town charter and propose revisions as they see fit. Any revisions must then be approved by voters.

Once appointments are complete, Linscott will schedule the organizational meeting. One of the commission’s responsibilities will be to hold a public meeting within 30 days of their first meeting, “to receive information, views, comments and other material relating to its functions,” according to the statute.

Critics of the proposal had worried about cost and time spent on the process, and consolidating more power in the hands of the town council. They pointed to recent political upheaval in the town over the warrant committee, cruise ship visitation and development of the ferry terminal property, citing Maine Municipal Association advice against forming a charter commission during a time of upheaval.

Newly elected charter commission member Michael Gurtler told the Islander on Wednesday the commission’s first steps will likely be “to meet, organize ourselves, and decide what to look at.”

When asked if he had any goals for the commission, Gurtler said his goal was to look at the charter as it is written, and decide as a group what areas may need changing.

Gurtler, who served on the last charter commission ten years ago, said he didn’t believe anyone should go into the process with preformed ideas of what they want to change. “I think we just have to be open-minded and thorough, and open to new ideas,” he said. “It’s meant to be a group of people who want thoughtful discussion. I’m looking forward to it.”

The 2008 charter commission recommended requiring one year as a registered voter before running for town council or school committee, and eliminating the position of secretary on the town council and school committee. These recommendations were brought before voters at a 2010 town meeting, where they passed by a 1,069 to 202 vote.

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