Editorial: Not a power grab

Bar Harbor’s voters will decide next week whether to create a commission to review the town’s governing document. Down the line, if the commission is approved, voters will also have to sign off on any proposed changes to the charter.

It’s not the case that the charter commission must either repeal and replace the existing charter, or do nothing.

State law provides that “if the charter commission, in its final report…recommends that the present charter continue in force with only minor modifications, those modifications may be submitted to the voters in as many separate questions as the commission finds practicable.” The law also explicitly allows election of voter members at the same municipal election as the referendum for the charter commission, which is the way the warrant for next week is prepared.

A charter commission not a power grab. It’s a review. Our local school boards and nonprofit organizations are constantly reviewing and updating their policies and strategic plans in an effort to improve performance.

True, the charter holds more legal weight. But as new generations of town leadership and staff take the reins, it’s appropriate for them to ask questions.

In the process for public review of the budget, town staff members present their departmental budgets at town council budget workshops, then to a warrant committee subcommittee and then to the whole warrant committee.

This multiplicity of committees and committee reviews is one of the sound justifications for a charter commission evaluation of town government.

For zoning changes, presentations are made to a planning board hearing, then to a town council hearing, then to a warrant committee subcommittee, then to the full warrant committee and again to a final town council hearing.

Bar Harbor is fortunate to have skilled and dedicated volunteers on committees and task forces. But often these hearings rehash the same arguments with the same players. It’s worth exploring whether process changes can save everyone time without reducing public input and participation.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this editorial claimed the recommendations of the last charter commission were considered individually by voters. The recommendations were in fact considered together, in a charter modification approved at the June 2010 town election.

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