Also contemplates additional changes to personnel ordinance, votes to demolish old building at ferry terminal, and library report
BAR HARBOR—While much of the discussion at the Bar Harbor Town Council meeting Tuesday night focused on the new cruise ship plan, the council also continued to move forward on several items on its agenda.
During its September 20 Council meeting, the council moved to have a public meeting on October 18 concerning the proposed long-term rental registration ordinance. Vice Chair Matthew Hochman said that the discussion in the council’s last meeting was moving the ordinance in the right direction though he would still like some changes in the policy.
The ordinance would create a registration for long-term rentals. Within the draft language, there are escalating fees for failure to register annually prior to February 28. Registrations would be issued by the code enforcement officer. And, if approved, the registration program would begin January 1, 2024.
At a September 6 meeting, the council unanimously voted to table a public hearing concerning the plan after hearing concerns from Councilor Jill Goldthwait who wondered how the town can permit a building that it didn’t inspect. She also worried about the legal obligations and implications. The potential ordinance does not call for inspections. Goldthwait said she was concerned about creating a liability for the town if it approved a unit’s registration without having an inspection of that same unit.
At that same meeting, Hochman said he was concerned about making sure the town was renting safe long-term apartments and dwellings. Currently, short-term rentals require inspections. Councilor Erin Cough said that dwelling units do require certificates of occupancy, which could take care of some of the safety concerns.
FERRY TERMINAL BUILDING DEMOLITION
The council quickly discussed the plan to demolish the old Blue Nose building at the ferry terminal on Route 3. Due to the timing of an incoming barge crew to do other work on the property, the town could piggyback onto that project to save money, Council Chair Valerie Peacock said.
Hochman expressed concern with the uncertainties around Bay Ferries Limited’s future. He had some worries about the rest of the work being finished and what Bay Ferries involvement in that future work will be and what the liabilities for the town will be.
According to Nova Scotia Public Works Minister Kim Masland, the Nova Scotian government plans to discuss what might happen with the ferry that transports passengers from Bar Harbor to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and indicated that it could be discontinued. The ferry didn’t operate due to COVID-19 during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The 2019 season was impacted by the move of the ferry from Portland to Bar Harbor and delays in the construction of the terminal.
In an early September press release, Bay Ferries Limited said it sold 35,056 tickets so far for the 2022 season for its CAT ferry that brings passengers from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia in about 3.5 hours.
“Based on current bookings and historical sales for previous years in operation (from another port) since 2016, this suggests annual traffic in the range of 37,000-41,000 passengers,” it wrote in the release.
Nova Scotia’s officials had hoped for 60,000 passengers this season. Multiple news outlets in both Canada and the United States have reported the Nova Scotian Premier Tim Houston was “disappointed” by the amount of people using the ferry. Nova Scotia has subsidized the ferry for $17 million this year.
Councilor Jeff Dobbs said that Bay Ferries Limited has a significant history of ferrying passengers between the countries and that sometimes it takes businesses a bit of time to rebound or figure things out.
Peacock said that despite that uncertainty, the council and Harbor Committee still should do the work. “Even if the CAT were not to use the terminal,” there is still a lot of work to do for the pilings, she said. “There is a sort of weird all-or-nothing planning process that we have to figure out.”
The unanimously approved request was for demolishing the Bluenose building at the ferry terminal’s north pier and was originally estimated to cost $130,000. Town Manager Kevin Sutherland said that Bar Harbor would be responsible for $99,300. Bay Ferries Limited would pay $30,700 and repair or replace some of the pilons on that pier.
The town purchased the pier in 2018 and it was the site of the former Bluenose ferry.
After some discussion, the council unanimously approved changes to the personnel rules with the understanding that there would be additional modifications at another meeting next month. Those changes included copyediting as well as a potential change to the bereavement policy outlined, which currently only allows three days off with pay for employees who have lost an immediate family member. Councilor Jill Goldthwait was worried that was not enough time. Other councilors supported increasing that to five days. Currently, Finance Director Sarah Gilbert said, this happens about four or five times a year and employees needing additional time off often use vacation time. She will get additional data to help councilors determine the financial cost for such a change.
Goldthwait also suggested banning scented products rather than just expecting them to be conservative. Hochman said, “I have a problem with the employee dress and appearance. It is the wording is primarily directed at women. I have the same problem with that that I have in most dress code policies in school.” He said he found the language to be slightly, unintentionally, discriminatory.
“It’s specifically targeting dress that is something that mostly women would wear,” Hochman said.
Peacock suggested neutralizing and modernizing the language a bit.
HOW TO ADDRESS CONFLICTS
During the public comment, Annlinn Kruger asked the council for a “public accounting of Town Manager Kevin Sutherland” who she alleged threatened to arrest her and fine her for her graffiti she writes in various places in downtown Bar Harbor which says, “Google Leonard Leo = Corrupt Courts.” Leo is the co-chair of the Federalist Society and lives in Northeast Harbor during the summers. His Maine residence has been the focus of activists who disagree with the Federalist Society’s agenda as well as its stance on abortion.
In late August Sutherland told the Mount Desert Islander that he didn’t threaten Kruger with arrest and that he couldn’t nor did he want to arrest her. During the public comment, she said there is a “misinformation campaign” in the press and she suggested the council speak on the issue so that the members don’t seem complicit.
On August 25, Kruger received an email from Sutherland asking her to stop the chalking of the sidewalks, saying that the chalk was not temporary, which he defined as “easy to wash off.” He also suggested that the act could be criminal mischief because it is “intentionally tampering with the property of others.”
He also wrote, “I have asked staff to track time and the cost of material to remove the graffiti and will be sending you the bill.”
Also on August 25, Kruger responded via email to Sutherland with images of her messages being wiped off with brush and water “in a matter of minutes and also dissolving with just an application of water.”
That same night she sent a message to the town council (including those other August 25 emails) and saying that two Bar Harbor law enforcement officers threatened her with criminal mischief while BHPD Captain David Kerns was helping her “protect my rights and keep my graffiti project within the parameters of the law” and also that Sutherland has failed to tell her which solvents failed to dissolve the messages, whether the removal of graffiti is routine in town, and provide the legal definitions of “temporary” or “damage.” Kerns is a supervisor of the other officers that Kruger mentioned in her email.
Kruger also states in the August 27 letter to the Town Council that her actions do not fall under criminal mischief because they do not “impair the use of that property” as stipulated in the Maine criminal code explanation of criminal mischief, a class D crime. (Title 17-A Section 806 of the Maine Criminal Code). Whether or not there is a town rule about graffiti in certain areas and if that falls under the purview of the Design Review Board, code enforcement officer, police department or town manager is not discussed at great length, but that would not be a criminal offense. It would be a civil matter. According to a September 1 email to the Council, she said Sutherland “has failed to provide, despite verbal and written requests, any citations of pertinent elements of The Town Code.”
Throughout her graffiti project, Kruger said that she has consulted solely with the Bar Harbor Police Department. She has acted in accordance with their guidance and in conformity with the Maine Criminal Code, she said.
Among questions she has for the council, which she included in an email to them are: Sutherland’s decision to what she believes is selective graffiti removal and use of town resources to do so; how members feel about his request for her to pay for that removal; how they feel about the implication that she might be arrested for a criminal mischief charge because of that graffiti; if the executive session discussion was productive; why the matter wasn’t presented in open discussion so that Bar Harbor residents could hear and weigh the implications to their own First Amendment rights; whether or not Leonard Leo complained and influenced Sutherland’s actions; the protocols and procedures of ethics complaint investigations and actions.
Kruger was initially painting her message with a medium that was not as easily removed as the newly created chalk paint that she now uses. She is often quoted about her activities in Bar Harbor and Northeast Harbor in The Quietside Journal, a substack publication by Lincoln Millstein.
Chalk paint graffiti from first application to wearing away with rains. From 3 September – 24 September.
During individual councilor remarks at the end of the meeting, Friedmann suggested that it might be appropriate that someone respond to Kruger.
“It’s important to not engage. She’s attacked our town manager,” he said, and added, “I just think we have to say something. At the same time, I want to express my support for Kevin from unfortunate attacks by The Quietside Journal as well as Annlinn. Silence sends the wrong message.”
Councilor Jeff Dobbs said, “It was particularly nasty tonight against Kevin and it wasn’t fair, but she does deserve a response.”
The council had an executive session discussing the matter at its last meeting. Executive sessions are usually held privately when dealing with personnel issues or union negotiations. Peacock said that how to address this conflict and all conflict is important work for the community and the council. She indicated that as the chair of the council, she would speak to Kruger.
As of early Monday, September 26, Kruger has not had a response to her questions, but Kruger said that Peacock has asked her via email to meet. That meeting has not yet occurred.
JESUP MEMORIAL LIBRARY
Matt Delaney, director of the Jesup Memorial Library, has been in his position for just over a year and presented to the council close to the end of the meeting.
“It’s all very good news,” he said.
He told the council that in August the library had 4,500 visitors, 4,900 card holders, 3,500 items borrowed, held 22 programs and had 1000 attendees at 45 children’s events.
“We’re a really bustling place. We welcome everyone in the community,” he said.
The library has three major sources of support: the town; trusts and endowment; donations and program revenue with a budget of about $600,000 a year. The town provided about $162,000 of that. He credited employee Lila Miller, the advancement and community relations director, for raising $250,000 in annual donations last year.
The bustling library is also undergoing a massive capital improvement and expansion project with a goal of breaking ground next year.
“The greatest threat is that it’s going to be increasingly difficult to put staff in our library,” Delaney said, adding that cost of living increases, labor shortages, and a current employee benefit package that isn’t competitive are all part of that staffing equation, but he said that the board is committed to address those issues.
“I think we’ve all seen the benefit of the Jesup,” Hochman said. “It is invaluable to our community. It is invaluable to our government.”
“Ditto,” Dobbs said, and Cough also thanked Delaney for his presentation.
Peacock said that there are ideas for community gathering spaces and auditory spaces in the town building, the school system, and the library, and wondered if there were ways to bring all those ideas together to keep the town, the library, and the school system from building three expensive auditoriums simultaneously.
Delaney said that the library’s plan is for a 150-person auditorium that could be accessed even when the library isn’t open.
The Jesup has just under $750,000 left to raise to reach its $12.5 million campaign goal. The Bar Harbor business community has already committed $300,000 and has promised to raise $200,000 more.
Sutherland spoke about providing information about ethics training sponsored by Maine Municipal Association to several boards. Peacock said a workshop with lawyers and others about conflict of interests would be great and to gather feedback about potential changes and adjustments to Bar Harbor’s current ordinance about ethics. She added that several people on committee and boards have expressly asked for this training as well as fine-tuned understanding of the town’s own ordinance.
Sutherland also spoke of applying for two grants. One is Safe Streets. The other is a community resilience partnership.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to add in comments of Annlinn Kruger.
LINKS FOR MORE INFORMATION BECAUSE LEARNING IS GOOD!
To make a contribution to the library’s campaign, click the link below, or contact Lila Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The library’s capital campaign information.