A Super Majority Recommends Rejecting Bar Harbor’s Super Majority Requirement

In an almost unanimous decision, Bar Harbor’s Warrant Committee supports removing two-thirds rule

BAR HARBOR—After a brief synopsis from the chair of a reporting subcommittee, with no discussion, comments, or deliberation, the Bar Harbor Warrant Committee voted 14-1 to recommend the removal of the majority two-thirds vote requirement for certain land use amendments to pass. The vote came after a subcommittee recommended the removal by 4-1.

“I think the public has very little understanding of this,” Committee Member Carol Chappell said and then recapped the public comments at the last Bar Harbor Town Council meeting. A substantial amount of those comments were against the amendments removal.

Up until 1975 all land use ordinance required a two-thirds vote, after that it was no longer required if the town council and planning board agreed.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the two-thirds rule is “a political principle requiring that two thirds rather than a simple majority of the members of a politically organized group must concur in order to exercise the power to make decisions binding upon the whole group.”

According to Erica Brooks who spoke against the change at a town council meeting in August,

“As a former planning board member I understand the importance of our Land Use and Zoning Ordinance as well as following the proper channels to make a land use amendment.  While I think we can all agree that our LUZO is complex and I can appreciate the concept of simplifying things I am very concerned that simplifying to this level will have poor consequences.  Removal of all checks and balances is not good for us as a democracy.  There is a reason there is a warrant committee. There is a reason there is a planning board.  The members of these arms of our town government offer their expertise, experience, and well-thought-out discussion on land use amendments (whether it be a citizens initiative or something directed by the council).  The work that both the warrant committee and the planning board do is crucial to making sure no one particular group, person, or corporation can push through an ordinance change without careful deliberation and the need for a super majority or simple majority when voted on.  For the council to suggest this out of the blue leaves me to question why?  Why would anyone think it a good idea to remove the layered and thoughtful approach to how we as a town amend Land Use Ordinances?  To take this away would be an open door for anyone to push through hasty land use amendments that are not carefully vetted and do not require the full backing of the voters.  I truly cannot see one reason this would benefit our town.”

Brooks also questioned the timing because she is a party to an active lawsuit against the town concerning short-term vacation rentals where the two-thirds rule comes into play. She questioned why they would want to change that rule immediately after the town council and planning board disagreed and possibly negate the importance of the planning board’s input.

“Regardless of the topic, whether it be vacation rentals, cruise ships, zoning setbacks or permitted uses in zones, don’t we want to ensure any contentious amendment is well vetted across the boards before it goes to our voters and pass by super majority versus simple?  It is very obvious to me as someone who was specifically targeted by the council that the reason they are bringing this up now is to prove a point, hardly democratic.  Our citizens trust the current process because it ensures a safety net; why would we want that to change?  

She continued to say, “We have many important issues in our town right now, and to take the focus off of those in an effort to remove checks and balances and the way we vet our land use amendments seems overall like an inefficient use of time.”

If the voters approve of it (by a simple majority in November) the warrant article would allow Land Use Ordinance amendments to pass by a simple majority vote rather than two-thirds majority to change the town rules if the Bar Harbor Planning Board (which hears the proposed amendment first and has a public hearing) votes against the adoption of the change. If the planning board is in favor of the adoption, it currently just needs to pass via a simple majority vote at the town meeting. This would not change.


LEARN MORE!

For more about the Bar Harbor Planning Board, click here.

For a global historical analysis of supermajorities, click here.

For our earlier story and more information about super majority and Bar Harbor’s two-thirds rule, click here.

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