By Becky Pritchard, [email protected]
BAR HARBOR — Citizen initiatives seeking to prohibit berthing piers for cruise ships and to require that voting members of town boards be town residents were brought to the town council Tuesday.
Town Clerk Sharon Linscott certified that both had been signed by the required number of registered voters of the town.
Councilors decided to take the full 60 days afforded them in the town charter to consider the petitions and bring them up again at the Oct. 2 council meeting.
Resident Charles Sidman, who submitted both petitions, argued in an email to councilors that they are legally required to put one of the petitions, the berthing pier question, on the November ballot. He wrote “the council is in fact authorized to defer consideration” of the other petition, having to do with who may vote on town boards and committees, but he advised against it.
He cited a 2015 Hancock County Superior Court case in which a judge ordered the town to place citizen initiatives received in the spring on the June town meeting warrant, rather than waiting until November as they had planned.
“The town’s failure to set the warrant for a vote in June runs counter to the mandatory language of the town’s charter, and the town’s actions were erroneous,” Justice Robert Murray wrote in that decision.
But Town Manager Cornell Knight said the council has three options, according to the town charter: adopt the petition as presented, place it on the ballot for November, or consider the petition for 60 days before making a decision.
Town Attorney Ed Bearor confirmed that all three are perfectly legal in the case of the residency requirement petition. In the case of the zoning change banning berthing piers, the town does not have the first option of adopting it outright, he said, as all Land Use Ordinance amendments must be approved by voters.
Bearor dismissed the comparison with the 2015 situation. In that case, the council did not explicitly exercise its option to take extra time to consider the petition.
The first petition seeks to make residency a requirement to voting on town boards. Boards, committees and task forces are all appointed by the council, Many have designated seats for people who have important perspectives on the work of the board by virtue of professional experience, such as a harbor pilot or a police officer.
Councilor Paul Paradis asked if it was necessary to take away the voting rights of non-residents, considering the role of boards is not to make decisions. “Councilors make decisions, and committees make recommendations,” he said.
“I want to look at each and every committee to see what the ramifications are,” said councilor Judie Noonan.
The second petition was a proposed amendment to the Bar Harbor LUO, to prohibit berthing piers for large cruise ships. The definition of large in the petition was “more than five hundred passengers.”
Paradis asked if a land use ordinance could regulate activity over the water. Erin Cough asked what the term “cruise ship” meant in the petition, wanting it to be better defined.
CORRECTION: The print version of this story contained two errors. First, Sidman wrote in his email that the council does have the delay option in the residency requirement petition. Second, in the case of zoning amendment petitions, Town Attorney Ed Bearor said the council does not have the option of adopting the petition outright, since zoning changes must be approved by town voters. The Islander apologizes for the errors.