Editorial: Voice, not vote

Bar Harbor recently enacted, by citizen initiative, an ordinance change requiring anyone holding a voting seat on an appointed town board, committee or commission to be a registered voter in the town.

The Town Council sought guidance from the town attorney on how best to implement the change. Since the new ordinance conflicts with several sections of the municipal code, the opinion came back recommending amendments to the relevant chapter to clear up the confusion. It also recommended the ordinance apply to new appointments only “because of constitutional concerns with stripping current members of their voting rights, which is deemed a property right.”

The legal language of “property right” may sound odd to some, but it only means it’s a privilege that was duly conferred and can’t be taken away without due process. Even outside of the legal reasoning, changing an appointed official’s role midway through his or term seems like something that should be avoided.

Under the new ordinance, the voting rights of current non-resident committee members will expire as their current terms expire, even if they’re re-appointed. There are no plans to reverse that change.

The council should repeal and revise the Boards, Committees and Commissions ordinance, not to undo the initiative change but to correct inconsistencies. It’s a good time to do that anyway, as a review of the town’s committees is also underway.

But it’s also worth saying again, as it was during the campaign, that all the boards and committees with seats that may be held by non-residents act in an advisory capacity to the Town Council. The Planning Board and Appeals Board have independent authority, but they are composed entirely of residents.

Some residents imagine that the Cruise Ship Committee is “the room where it happens,” where nefarious outside forces set the direction for continued growth of cruise ship visitation here. The reality is much more prosaic. Some members have even resigned because they thought the committee would be discussing high-level goals and strategy for managing cruise visitation and instead found detailed discussion of signage and wi-fi networks.

That higher-level discussion is certainly needed, but the new residency requirement alone seems unlikely to spark it.

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