Reducing friction

Despite a push over the last 12 months to improve civility and communication in Bar Harbor town government proceedings, the budget season is beginning with continued friction between the Town Council and the 22-member Warrant Committee.

What can be done to clear the air? Members of both bodies are volunteers who slog through snow and slush to get to meetings, spend long hours in deliberation and pay careful attention to the rules and mandates.

The Warrant Committee worked last summer to draft a proposal, and have it reviewed by the town attorney, to switch from the current slate election for one-year terms to a system of staggered elections for three-year terms.

The council rejected that proposal in August, saying they would begin a more thorough review of the Warrant Committee’s roles and responsibilities during their fall goal-setting session.

According to the goals statement from that meeting, the council plans to “convene a Charter Commission to make recommendations on electronic voting at town meeting, streamlining the budget formation process, and the purpose, function, and structure of the warrant committee.” To our knowledge, no official steps have been taken to begin this process.

Meanwhile, one former Warrant Committee member became involved in litigation against the town and resigned his post.

Last year, the Warrant Committee was asked to vote on whether involvement in a citizen initiative constituted a conflict of interest, whether those who worked to put article 13 on the ballot ought to recuse themselves from the committee vote on whether to recommend that voters adopt or reject the article.

We agree with the committee and town attorney Mary Costigan, who wrote that “the task of the Warrant Committee members … inherently involves the expression of individual opinions on the various articles presented.”

No one need recuse themselves from Warrant Committee votes simply because of other political or public activities they undertake. However, it’s reasonable to expect members to disclose relevant personal involvements in discussion of the issues. That way, as a recommendation moves through subcommittees to the full committee and onto the ballot, voters have as much information as possible about what’s behind the numbers.

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