Viewpoint: More voices make better laws 

By Julie Berberian and Anna Durand 

The Charter Commission met for over a year to consider changes to the foundational document of our town’s governing structureThe commission forged a consensus on six out of nine major changes that will be presented to voters in November. On three of the nine changes, we were unable to reach consensus and two of us wrote a minority report, a synopsis of which is included here. Please note that the original minority report refers to charter changes that were numbered differently than the warrant articles on the November ballot. 

We are long-time business owners and community members in Bar Harbor. We are not part of any political “faction” in this town. We’re grateful for the dedication of our town’s many volunteer boards and committees, we appreciate the Planning Department’s hard work on complicated and sometimes controversial issues, and we trust the Town Council and the Warrant Committee. Our dissenting viewpoints on three of the nine changes reflect our understanding of a core value held by many residents: more voices make better laws. Land use and zoning are two issues that residents care deeply about – they’re what bring us together but they’re what can also drive us apart. We also know that many residents rely on the informed and inclusive analysis of the Warrant Committee to help guide us as we find our way through our most democratic of institutions: New England Town Meeting. We urge you to read through the charter changes and our minority report. Please vote No on Warrant Articles 2, 4 and 8.  

Synopsis of the 2019 Charter Commission Minority Report: 

On April 4, 1796, the voting citizens of Eden gathered for their first Town Meeting. They elected a moderator and voted on land use – to allow cattle to “go at large,” but not sheep. (Mount Desert Island Historical Society, “Town Records of Mount Desert – Eden” 

These residents were exercising a new form of direct democracy and the legacy they left to us is precious. Town Meeting “… ‘is the purest form of democracy’ because citizens, not their representatives, participate directly in the making of laws,” according to the Maine Municipal Association. It is here that the residents of Bar Harbor can decide for themselves and actively legislate on how we want our town to take shape. 

The minority report gives context for our opposing votes on Articles 2, 4 and 8. Our thoughts are grounded in the values we experience as year-round residents: respect for our neighbors and the land that shapes our livelihoods. 

No on Warrant Article 2 

Article 2 removes the Warrant Committee from reviewing citizen initiatives, referenda and the school budget. The Warrant Committee’s job is to consider, investigate and make recommendations for articles on the warrant. It is a valuable resource for residents and elected representatives to gain information on the current topics. 

No on Warrant Article 4  

We consider Town Meeting to be the “gold standard” of citizen participation in town decision-making. In Bar Harbor, all land use changes must be voted upon at Town Meeting. If Article 4 is adopted, the resulting changes would add public hearings to the process but ultimately give the power to “modify” what is considered “minor” to four appointed Planning Board members and five elected Town Councilors. Our current system allows the Planning Department to bring multiple minor changes as a single warrant article to the voters at Town Meeting. We feel confident that this method can continue to be used to make these recommended changes. 

No on Warrant Article 8 

The 22-member Warrant Committee is a diverse representative body with members from across the political spectrum. The larger number encourages the widest possible input in its duties to investigate and make recommendations on the warrant. 

For the future 

Our town faces many challenges, including how to balance appropriate development and private property rights, affordable housing and environmental protections. To tackle these issues, continued citizen involvement and input are crucial. The voters of 1796 established a solid framework that endures to serve our citizens. Our hope is that we can continue to work together to prioritize an inclusive, active and informed citizenry. 

 Julie Berberian and Anna Durand reside in Bar Harbor 

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