With Past Decisions In the Balance, Bar Harbor Looks For Advice

Town Council Seeks Legal Help on Cruise Ship Changes and Recent Superior Court Decision

BAR HARBOR—The Town Council will have a special meeting tonight where it will go into executive session to discuss a recent Hancock County Superior Court judge’s decision that strikes down the 2020 charter changes that were approved by Bar Harbor voters in the November 3, 2020 election. That decision could put two years of voters’ decisions,  Warrant Committee deliberations and the town’s budget in jeopardy. Bar Harbor Town Manager Kevin Sutherland hopes to find out.

The decision relates to charter changes that involved the Warrant Committee, its composition (reduced from 22 to 15 members), elections to it (individual elections rather than a slate), as well as the town’s budget process. It also allowed minor amendments to the town’s Land Use Ordinance (LUO) to be adopted by just the Town Council.

“How do I operate going forward? Is my budget invalid?” Bar Harbor Town Manager Kevin Sutherland said that he has questions for the judge. He will meet with the Town Council and legal representation tonight. Rudman Winchell provides legal representation for the town.

Sutherland said that the judgement has implications on towns other than Bar Harbor when the question becomes what is a minor modification and what isn’t, but also whether or not some of the actions of the town since Nov. 3, 2020 are valid. If not, it could have huge ramifications to the budget process as well as all the duties of the Warrant Committee as well as any minor amendments in the LUO that were adopted by the Town Council.

The October 24 decision ruled that eight of the nine proposed charter changes had to be struck down because the town violated the Maine Home Rule Act, which specifies the rules towns must comply with when amending charters. The town presented the changes as minor modifications, which are allowed to be voted on individually. The judge, however, believed that the changes were not minor modifications and should not have been voted on as more than one article. One charter change was not approved at the election.

Michael Good was the lead plaintiff in the suit filed in December, 2020. An earlier Bar Harbor Story article goes into further detail.

CRUISE SHIP PETITION

The case of Good v Town of Bar Harbor, is not the only item on the council’s agenda. Councilors will also head into an executive session to discuss the changes to the town’s cruise ship policy, which were approved by the voters on Tuesday. Those changes stem from a citizens’ petition that capped disembarkations to 1,000 a day. Those limits do not extend to cruise ships that were booked before March 17, 2022, which means that this next season will unlikely see substantial changes.

“The second executive session agenda item was a placeholder in case any of the citizen petitions were passed. So, yes. It will now be a chance for our attorney to explain to the Council their rights and duties related to the matter,” Sutherland said.

The citizens’ petition for those changes places the new plan in the LUO, placing the town’s harbormaster in there as well. The town now has to figure out the mechanisms of the change


MORE RESOURCES

The brief

Maine Home Rule Statute

2020 Charter Commission Report


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