By Charles Sidman
This letter is written to the Bar Harbor community, and its Town Council and local newspaper in particular, with as much (nonreciprocated) civility as possible. Serious matters need to be addressed frankly, however, as we are in a fundamental struggle over our community’s values, civic responsibilities and obligations to ourselves as well as neighbors and fellow citizens near and far.
First and quite surprisingly, the Mount Desert Islander displays a fundamentally flawed understanding and view regarding what constitutes and is allowed in American democracy. In last week’s Aug. 17 editorial, it charged that the rapidly increasing resistance to our council’s long-held objective of building a berthing pier for ever-larger cruise ships is simply sore losers refusing to take an electoral “no” for an answer.
In fact, the election in question concerned a zoning change that was very clearly not a referendum on voter preferences for or against a mega-cruise ship berthing pier. Such a clear and direct vote has yet to take place and most assuredly will in the near future. Until that happens, however, the paper’s stance that the status quo should be accepted regardless of values, ethics, etc., is patently un-American.
If this view were accepted, slavery would still be the law of the land, Americans would not have entered World Wars I and II or exited from Vietnam, civil rights would not be where they are today, health care would remain the prerogative of the increasingly financially privileged, etc.
Injustice and lack of wisdom must continually be resisted if our democracy is to survive for the benefit of all, as conservatives acted under President Obama and liberals similarly understand in the current Trump era.
Second, the editorial enshrines and favors election results, even those concerning non-directly-relevant issues, over the critical role of the court system. When elected officials are seen to act improperly, legal challenge is often the only immediately available recourse and is not the privilege of any one party or political viewpoint. Courts have recently constrained several attempted actions by President Trump, to the delight of liberals, while conservatives rejoiced when George W. Bush was awarded the presidency over Al Gore by the Supreme Court. The principle of checks and balances, among and between executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, is key and applies from the national to the local level.
Third, recent actions of the Town Council to create an appearance of community involvement concerning reuse of the ferry terminal property represent a Potemkin-like pretense. The touted survey site and “visioning” process, in both of which the questions asked and the individuals allowed to participate are all tightly controlled and determined by the establishment, are reminiscent of democracy as practiced in places like Hong Kong, where the Communist Party plays all the roles here exercised by our council.
Where else could a town manager dictate and decide (and be upheld by council) who is eligible to participate on the “visioning” board on the basis that one viewpoint is ineligible but the opposing and even-longer-held one “open-minded” and thus eligible? Further, the council’s admission that the “visioning” (actually, in their hopes an authenticating and rubber-stamping) process is being supported with cruise ship monies is quite analogous to tobacco companies of yore funding “scientific” research that declared smoking to be no danger to public health.
In both cases, it is clear who bought what, from whom, and all such charades are simply illegitimate and unacceptable.
Finally, both the Islander and the council deride the nascent Bar Harbor Residents Association (BHRA) as unnecessary and harmful. Those who are joining, however, have decided that an open forum for citizen interaction, discussion and possible collaborative action is necessary, and that the community needs a check-and-balance watchdog to counter the present primacy of dollars and private financial gain over community character and values.
Democratic voting is indeed the ultimate arbiter, and the BHRA intends to make vigorous efforts to ensure that the relevant facts, all of them, are available to voters, that voters are given the opportunity to decide clear questions rather than disingenuous, misleading and variously interpretable ones, and that sitting council members are replaced when necessary.
Further, court actions will be supported as short-term expedients and/or definitive remedies as appropriate. Finally, grassroots campaigns perhaps ultimately involving tens of thousands locally, regionally and nationally via social as well as traditional media will be aimed at the favored few commercial interests that exploit, degrade and abuse our shared community values and irreplaceable natural resources for their own narrow benefit.
In time, numerous issues will be addressed by the BHRA, but the current priority is that of the potential cruise ship berthing pier. On that matter, the Town Council should recognize that resistance to the long-envisioned pier will continue and increase until that option is dropped from the “visioning” menu, and the ultimately fruitless expenditure of time, effort and money for this objective is ended. When that occurs, perhaps a compromise solution like that proposed by Jeff Dobbs in his letter to the Islander, for a cruise ship tendering (but not berthing) ferry and ancillary use(s) facility, will be adopted, after purchase of the property by the town for the $3.5 million, no-strings-attached revised offer from the state.
All of this presumes and depends on the council preparing and circulating for open examination the necessary financial, business planning, environmental impact, etc., preparatory materials before committing to any decisions. The BHRA stands ready to collaborate with the town in helping do this necessary homework.
Charles Sidman is a year-round resident, gallery owner, voter in Bar Harbor and founder of the BHRA. To join, email [email protected]