BAR HARBOR — Proposed changes in the town’s system for reviewing Town Meeting warrants drew fire Monday at a public hearing held by the Charter Commission.
Most of those who spoke supported keeping the current Warrant Committee system, in which the committee reviews the budget, zoning changes and other articles and issues recommendations to voters.
“We have not made any formal recommendations to date, so this is an open discussion at this point,” said Michael Gurtler, the chair of the Charter Commission, at the start of the meeting.
The commission will draft recommendations in September, and produce a final report in December, Gurtler said. At each stage there will be further opportunity for public comment. Any proposed changes will go to voters at Town Meeting next June.
At Monday’s public hearing, Gurtler outlined potential changes discussed by the commission. The most significant was restructuring the “Warrant Committee” article of the charter to assign three different groups to review items on the warrant.
Whereas the town charter currently assigns all warrant items to be reviewed by the Warrant Committee, Gurtler said the commission is considering having land use items reviewed by the Planning Board, school items reviewed by the Superintending School Committee and budget items reviewed by a budget committee.
The goals of the changes, Gurtler said, would be to maintain citizen involvement while improving efficiency.
Other potential changes to the charter included updating the budget timeline, removing specific salaries from the charter, using technology known as “clickers” to vote at open town meeting and adding a public hearing requirement for citizen initiatives before they go on the ballot.
“The Warrant Committee process in my view is wonderful,” said Tom Crikelair, who has served on the Town Council and Warrant Committee in the past. “It’s what introduces people to town government. It’s how we get to know the process.”
Admitting that the warrant review process takes a long time, Crikelair continued, “What’s the rush? You want people to be informed, you want them to be educated, you want them to be engaged.”
“It’s really important to remember that complex and divisive issues need as much community involvement as we can possibly bring to them,” said Warrant Committee member Emily Henry. “You have to be careful equating complex issues with efficiency … Complex issues take the amount of time that they take.”
Warrant Committee member Carol Chappell asked who would provide “checks and balances over the land use articles that come before the voters.” She continued, “The Warrant Committee is a second set of eyes.”
Warrant Committee Chair Seth Libby said there were “a number of things that the warrant committee would like to propose” to streamline the warrant review process that would save staff and committee time, including more joint meetings.
Town Councilor Judie Noonan spoke about the “sense of divisiveness” between the council and the Warrant Committee, which she hoped would change.
“I think we’re all supposed to be on the same team, and that team is what’s best for Bar Harbor. Maybe we need to try to work together in the best interest of the town. Maybe we ought to have a potluck supper.”
Ivan Rasmussen, a former chair of the Planning Board, spoke in favor of the potential restructuring considered by the charter commission. “We need a more efficient process,” he said.
“Change is hard in Bar Harbor,” agreed resident Sherri Rasmussen. “If you reduce or change the size of the warrant committee, I want these young people [speaking in favor of the Warrant Committee] to know there are many committees, so I hope people will continue to serve.”
The creation of a temporary Charter Commission to review the town’s governing document was approved by a vote of 1,624 to 937 last November. Six of the nine members were elected by voters, and three were appointed by town councilors.