BAR HARBOR — A plan to extend the terms of Warrant Committee members to three years, with a third of the committee to be elected at town meeting every year, is set to go to voters in November.
A public hearing on the charter amendment is set for Aug. 15, following a 5-2 vote by the Town Council on July 18. Councilors Matt Hochman, Judie Noonan, Gary Friedmann, Stephen Coston and Peter St. Germain supported moving the proposal forward. Councilors Paul Paradis and Erin Early Ward were opposed.
The proposal was drafted by a Warrant Committee subcommittee, unanimously approved by the full committee and presented to the council last month. It may be considered by voters at town elections in November.
Town attorney Ed Bearor said the proposed changes would only constitute a simple “amendment” to the town charter, not a full “revision,” which would require convening a charter commission.
“Although the statute requires each amendment to be limited to a single subject, more than one section of the charter may be amended as long as it is germane to that subject,” Bearor wrote in a memo. “So, it is appropriate to post the four or five changes in one question on the ballot.”
Town Manager Cornell Knight and some councilors argued that the changes may not go far enough – that the town’s budget and warrant review process itself may need revision.
“It doesn’t seem to me that we need to have all these meetings to discuss the same things,” Knight said.
Town staff meets with Warrant Committee subcommittees and then with the full Warrant Committee to discuss the budget and other warrant articles, in addition to Planning Board and Town Council discussions.
“Sometimes we hear different things because we’re not in the same room at the same time,” he said.
But Councilor Gary Friedmann urged moving forward with the current proposal as a first step.
“This has the support of the Warrant Committee,” he said. “Anything else we do, you’re running into a firestorm, and we’ve got enough controversy right now. Let’s see what happens with these changes.”
Earlier in the meeting, Nina St. Germain and Ron Beard said that during their project to improve communication and involvement in town government, they have noticed significant confusion about the roles of the Warrant Committee and Town Council.
“Some of the conflict has to do with a disagreement about roles,” said Beard, who chaired the Warrant Committee’s nominating committee in a contentious process this year. “Until you get that clarity, I think you’ll have continued difficulty and disagreement.”
“Does the Warrant Committee represent the people of Bar Harbor, or does the council?” St. Germain said. “Sometimes this spring it felt like having divorced parents where you’re not really sure what’s what.”
They recommended that the leadership of the council, Planning Board and Warrant Committee meet quarterly to improve coordination among those groups.