Viewpoint: Preserving town control

By Arthur Greif

Vice-Chair Gary Friedmann of the Bar Harbor Town Council is quoted in the Feb. 8 edition of the Islander as saying a settlement offer by attorney Bill Dale in the Blanchard v. Bar Harbor litigation “amounts to an attempt to blackmail the council into removing these decisions about the town’s future from the citizens of Bar Harbor through town meeting.” He is misinformed. Blackmail is a crime: demanding money from a person in return for not revealing compromising information about that person. The offer seeks not a penny from the town and makes no threat to embarrass the town.

The settlement offer would leave article 12 in place and respect the town meeting vote in its favor. No prior town meeting decision would be affected by acceptance of the offer.

The settlement offer also asked the council to endorse the two consensus recommendations of the 40-person ferry terminal property advisory committee: that the town build a multi-use marina at the ferry terminal and not attempt to build a large cruise ship berthing pier. The council unanimously accepted the recommendations of the advisory committee on Nov. 21, 2018. The council was being asked to reaffirm its earlier voice vote. The council refused.

Finally, the settlement offer asked that the council not advance the port authority legislation that would be necessary only if it wished a large cruise ship berthing pier to be built. Were a port authority created, it would not be bound by any promise the council made to settle this claim or any promise by the council to the voters of Bar Harbor. Once again, the council refused to give its promises to the voters any certainty.

The port authority legislation, by creating a separate legal entity, a town within a town, would take decisions about budgets, bonding and sale of any land away from voters at the annual town meeting. It would give those decisions to a three-person majority of a board of directors. It also would give the port authority board of directors powers that otherwise would belong to the council were it to operate the ferry terminal site. Profits from the site would flow to the port authority and not benefit the taxpayers.

The Town Council will now be spending more taxpayer monies in this litigation rather than agreeing to do what it had already promised to do and agreeing to preserve town meeting control over the critical decisions that will be made about the ferry terminal property.

A settlement offer that asks the town to pay nothing, that preserves the zoning changes of article 12, that commits the Town Council in writing to its promises of Nov. 21 and preserves the critical town meeting controls that would apply if the town ran the ferry terminal property as a town department isn’t “blackmail.” It is common sense.

Arthur Greif is an attorney with the Bangor firm Gilbert and Greif. He lives in Bar Harbor.

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