BAR HARBOR — The way the town elects its Warrant Committee is under review following a contentious process this spring in nominating the current committee. On Tuesday, councilors asked to have the town attorney bring language for a possible amendment to the town charter per a Warrant Committee recommendation to their July 18 meeting.
In April, councilors requested the Warrant Committee recommend ways to increase turnover. Warrant Committee Chair John Dargis and Secretary Seth Libby presented proposed changes to the process this week, including staggered three-year terms for members and changes to the nominating committee.
“We tried to find a way to get new voices while retaining institutional knowledge,” Libby said.
Under the current rules, a nominating committee chaired by the previous year’s town meeting moderator presents a slate of 22 candidates for an up-or-down vote at open town meeting.
It has been the tradition of that nominating committee to automatically nominate any current committee members willing to continue to serve.
The proposed change would “authorize the nominating committee to nominate a minimum of seven candidates,” Dargis wrote in a memo to council. “The intent here is that the nominating committee would place any interested and qualified candidates on the ballot and the voters would choose among them to fill the seven vacancies. It is understood that this would likely require the vote to be on the secret ballot as opposed to town meeting.”
Councilors debated whether the process should shift to be more like the Town Council and school board elections, in which candidates must collect signatures on their nomination papers, or whether that would be too much to ask or send a signal that the committee is “coequal” with the council.
“The voters get to decide whether the Warrant Committee did their job,” both in electing the committee and in deciding whether to vote in line with the committee’s recommendations, Councilor Gary Friedmann said.
“This proposal comes out of an unusual time in the town’s history,” he continued, because the committee’s work had a higher profile this year and an unusually large number of residents expressed interest in serving. “What I like about [this proposal] is that they’ve made as few changes as possible.”
“I worry whether we’re looking at the right thing,” council Chair Paul Paradis said, arguing the respective roles and responsibilities of the council and Warrant Committee need clarification. He said if a charter commission is to be formed, the scope should be wider than just the Warrant Committee nomination and election process. It’s very unusual for a municipality with Bar Harbor’s council-town meeting form of government to have a budget or Warrant Committee at all, he said.
Dargis, Seth Libby, Erin Early Ward, Michael Blythe, Jonathan Eno, John Kelly and Rosemary Gladstone were members of the Warrant Committee subcommittee that drafted the proposed charter amendment per the council’s request.
The full Warrant Committee voted unanimously at a May 10 meeting to recommend the amendment.