To the Editor: Details matter 

To the Editor: 

I wish to clarify some confusion that may have ensued vis-à-vis a letter to the editor in the Islander published on Sept. 17 asserting that the general government subcommittee of the Warrant Committee “discovered a serious legal flaw in Article 3 of the nine proposed charter amendments that had gone undetected by the Charter Commission. The authors claim was that a “serious legal error” was caught and it was thanks to the careful vigilance of the Warrant Committee. I fully disagree with this conclusion. 

The assertation revolves around the idea that the textual changes to Charter Section C-6-B(3) strip the voters of their exclusive right to vote on LUO amendments at Town Meeting and I wish to clarify what these changes actually do. 

Charter Section C-6-B(3) currently reads that:  

The Annual Town Meeting shall have the exclusive power and responsibility to 

“Act on ordinances pertaining to the Town’s Land Use Ordinance and on any initiative or referendum questions as provided for by this Charter;” 

While the proposed change reads:  

Act on those ordinances placed on the warrant and on any initiative or referendum questions as provided for by this Charter. 

Standing alone, this wording change has no impact to “strip citizens of Bar Harbor of their exclusive power and responsibility,” as the author claims. Such rhetoric is misleading. It merely creates a more inclusive definition that actually still includes Land Use ordinance changes that currently are all placed on the town warrant. 

However, this more generalized wording change was necessary in this part of the charter because Article 4 on the town ballot proposes an alternative method for minor LUO changes ONLY when: 

The land use ordinance change is procedural or minor in that it seeks to correct, modify or reconcile inconsistencies, contradictions and errors or to bring the land use ordinance into compliance with state statutes pertaining to municipal zoning and the land use ordinance change is first recommended to the Planning Board by the Planning Director and upon review and after a public hearing, the Planning board recommends it to the Town Council by a supermajority vote. 

The changes proposed in Article 4 DO in effect remove the exclusive right to weigh in on all LUO amendments from Town Meeting but only in the above circumstances, so the author is not entirely incorrect. However, the vast majority of LUO changes will still need to be placed on the warrant hence the need for the wording changes in section C-6-B(3) to be more generalizedSince the wording is capable of standing on its own, the need to move it from Article 3 to Article 4, while a bit more tidy, makes no actual difference, and so, in my opinion, the assertation that somehow we have been saved a gross legal oversight that if not remedied would cost taxpayers thousands in legal challenges is not correct.  

The commission was very thorough in its linebyline assessment of the charter to make sure that changes to one section did not create conflict in other parts of the charter. So while the author is welcome to disagree with the premise that minor LUO changes should still always go to the voters (as two other members of the Commission also felt), his real issue is with Article 4 in its entirety and not what I see as a manufactured crisis to make it seem as though errors are being caught when, in my judgement, none actually exist. I’m fine if people want to disagree on the merits of the actual article, but let’s not create conflict where none exists. Details matter, and I encourage all voters to take to the time to read through the changes and, if questions still arise, to contact a member of the Charter Commission for the fullest understanding. 

 Chris Strout 

Bar Harbor 

Former Charter Commission member 

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