To the Editor:
The Charter Commission’s proposed changes to the Town Charter would radically change the powers of the Town Council, the Warrant Committee and Bar Harbor voters.
When I first read the commission’s preliminary report, the full effects of proposed changes were not immediately apparent. It’s easy enough to see in section C-10 A (9) that the Town Council’s powers would be greatly expanded to “Make, adopt, alter and repeal ordinances for any purpose permitted by statute.”
It’s also easy to understand that a new section C-14.C (3) would require that “All land use ordinance amendments … must be approved by a supermajority of the full membership of the Town Council.”
But the report does not also explain that this proposed change means that zoning could then be changed at any time without Town Meeting approval, that the council would no longer put any land use ordinance amendments recommended by the Planning Board on any Town Meeting warrant or ballot and that Bar Harbor voters would no longer have the power to vote on all zoning changes.
It’s also easy to read proposed changes to section C-5 C (1)(a) and section C-5 C (2)(b) and believe that Warrant Committee would continue to review land use ordinance amendments and the town budget.
But this would not be correct. No land use ordinance amendments would ever be on any town meeting warrant or ballot, unless a zoning change were proposed by citizen initiative or referendum.
And even then, there could be no Warrant Committee review. The “Rationale for changes to section C-36” states that “The Warrant Committee will no longer review and report … on Initiatives and Referendums.”
Because no other kinds of ballot questions and warrant articles, such as Resolutions or Charter amendments, are included in revised sections (C-5 C (1)(a) and C-5 C (2)(b), the Warrant Committee would no longer review these other kinds of warrant articles.
So a closer look at other proposed changes reveals the surprising fact that a Warrant Committee would never review any articles affecting land use ordinance changes and would not even review the entire budget. The Municipal Budget is only part of the Operating Budget and does not include the Education Budget. It’s not at all clear to me why such a limited budget review committee is being called a “Warrant Committee.”
Taking time to understand the effects of all proposed changes is extremely important. The commission is recommending changes to 19 sections of our Town Charter. These will not be submitted to voters as separate questions. Instead, as Charter Commission Chair Gurtler explained to the Town Council and at the last Public Hearing, all changes in the entire charter revision are to be voted on with just one yes or no vote.
The Charter Commission will hold a Public Hearing on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. to hear public comment on the draft report. Both the draft report and our current Town Charter are available on the town website. (The charter is found at the very beginning of the Municipal Code. Use the Municipal Code link in the Town Hall menu on the homepage).
To provide feedback on proposed charter changes and to learn more about how this charter revision could affect our town and why commissioners believe such sweeping changes are necessary, please attend this public hearing Monday, Nov. 18. The commission will then meet on Wednesday, Nov. 20 to consider possible changes, if any, and prepare a final report.