Editorial: Civic interest

The Town of Bar Harbor has a permanent Cruise Ship Committee, appointed by the town council and charged with overseeing cruise ship operations and making recommendations to the council for any needed policy changes. Many of the seats on the committee are held by non-residents with relevant expertise. A citizen petition brought forward this summer would relegate the non-residents to non-voting status.

There’s no evidence of any ill intent in the way the committee was organized or has evolved, but the change is a good idea. The committee grew out of a task force that was formed when the town was beginning to work with cruise lines and its membership reflected the need for operational knowledge. One of its purposes is to be a council of advice for the town’s harbormaster as he fields requests for reservations, assesses fees and enforces regulations. There are seats for representatives of shore excursion companies, CruiseMaine, the company responsible for tender operations, the maritime industry, and local police, none of whom need be Bar Harbor residents.

The committee must make recommendations that are well-informed and are in the best interest of the town. The subject-matter experts are in the room in order to meet the first of those goals, but should not be expected to have “skin in the game” in the same way as do voting citizens of the town.

It has been argued that the committee has no power to make or change policy, that it is an advisory body. But this is true of most other boards and task forces, and seats on those are held by residents. On the planning board and school board, for example, town and school staff attend and participate in discussions, but do not vote.

The petition should not be seen as an attempt to hamstring the town’s relationship with the cruise industry. If clarifying roles and expectations can shoo away the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the committee in some residents’ minds, it will be well worth the effort.

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