Influencing voters a First Amendment right

To the Editor:

In the spirit of public disclosure and transparency, I note I am a Warrant Committee member. However, I write as a private citizen and nothing in this letter reflects the opinions of the Bar Harbor Warrant Committee.

The Feb. 15, 2018 edition of the Islander describes a motion passed by the Town Council on Feb. 6 to have the town manager seek documents from “certain citizens serving on the Warrant Committee.” This motion contains veiled charges of violations by Warrant Committee members. The town manager had sent an email on Feb. 7 to the General Government Subcommittee, of which I am a member.

That email states that the “Town Council wants to see all documents, emails and correspondence, Facebook, Text Messages, or other Social Media that you have or had in your possession that involve Article 12 or 13” for a five month period beginning Feb. 1, 2017. The town manager claims that this incredibly broad request to search and seize papers is based on litigation documents obtained in Blanchard, et al., v. Town of Bar Harbor.

The town manager articulates no legal basis or authority for this overreaching and intrusive demand. My husband, who now represents me, has written the town manager and asked him to cite any authority in the charter for one elected body to investigate another, but the town manager has declined.

For the record, neither I nor my family is a party to the Blanchard v. Bar Harbor litigation. Nor do I stand to gain financially in any way from that legal proceeding. That litigation had no bearing on the warrant articles before the Warrant Committee from Feb. 13 until March 27, 2017, because that lawsuit was not filed until mid-July of 2017, long after the Warrant Committee deliberations were over.

For “documentation,” I invite the town manager and Town Council to review the Warrant Committee’s deliberations of March 27, 2017, on article 12 and 13 that are available online via Town Hall Streams. This is the official public record of my deliberations and decisions as a Warrant Committee member, all done in the full sunshine and transparency required by state statute.

The Feb. 6, 2018 Town Council motion and subsequent town manager’s request for five months worth of any documents or social media posts are nothing more than politically motivated attempts to impugn my character by slithery innuendo and chill the voice of those who dare speak their truthful opinions to power.

The most shocking statement from the town manager, found in his follow-up email sent on Feb. 14, was his criticism of two Warrant Committee members for meeting with other voters on April 17, 2017, to “influence the town voter.” The town manager claims in that same email that the Government Operations Subcommittee, as of the April 17 meeting, had “just made” a recommendation to the full Warrant Committee. In fact, the subcommittee had voted on March 21 and the full Warrant Committee had completed its deliberations and voted on March 27, fully three weeks before the meeting with other voters on April 17.

The town manager then incorrectly claims that the minutes “list a majority” of subcommittee members. The third member is “listed,” but only as a person to be invited at a later time. This desperate attempt to backdate the meeting and pretend that it included three subcommittee members is telling. Open meeting laws requiring deliberations to be public can never be violated by meetings occurring three weeks after deliberations are complete.

These voters who met on April 17, 2017, like all citizens of the United States as enshrined in the First Amendment, have a right “to influence voters” at the town, state and national level. We do this by letters to the editor, columns, speeches, advocacy, community organization, handbills, telephone calls, social media, etc.

This First Amendment right “to influence the town voter” is well illustrated by the June 1, 2017 “Community Forum” column written by Basil Eleftheriou Jr., a sitting Planning Board member, who helped draft and voted to recommend article 12. Eleftheriou, like me, had already voted on article 12 and 13 and was exercising his First Amendment rights to “influence the town vote.” His column suggests that he crafted that letter with the assistance of another Planning Board member. Once again, this is the type of collaborative activity the First Amendment protects.

Before the June 13, 2017 vote, many members of the public expressed their concerns to my husband, an attorney, that council Chair Paradis was distributing flyers favoring article 12 and opposing article 13. They had likely been paid for with taxpayer funds. My husband’s uniform response was that the First Amendment gave Paradis that right, and none of us should question it.

Why is the Town Council investigating only these members of the Warrant Committee? They, unlike Paradis and Eleftheriou, took positions on articles 12 and 13 with which the Town Council disagreed. Apparently, the council believes that the First Amendment rights of free speech, peaceable assembly and petitioning for redress of grievances extend only to those with whom the council agrees. Those with whom the council disagrees may find their papers subject to an unreasonable search and seizure despite the limits of the Fourth Amendment.

I feel truly sad that democracy should now only be afforded to those who agree with the majority of the Bar Harbor Town Council.

Donna Mae Karlson

Bar Harbor

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