Citizens Urged to Work With Staff To Hone Petitions

Kevin Sutherland details his role as town manager; Holland Road and Atlantic Avenue Ground Water Updates

BAR HARBOR—Before Town Manager Kevin Sutherland arrived at the Jesup Memorial Library Wednesday afternoon for his biweekly manager minutes, the town’s new communications coordinator, Maya Caines sat with her computer and notepad behind the long rectangular table in the Periodicals Room, talking to the five people who had assembled for the informal discussion.

And her first question was pretty simple as a woman asked her about who she was. She also briefly mentioned Laura Barry, the new sustainability coordinator who is working on multiple levels for an environmentally sustainable, year round, vibrant community.

“A little late on that, honey,” the woman said.

“There’s always time to make change,” Caines answered, smiling.

The second question was a doozy as that same woman said that everyone was wondering what the town manager does since there are all these new positions.

“I’m just running from one meeting to another,” Sutherland said as he hurried in a minute so later, answering, in part the woman’s question without knowing it had been asked.

Sutherland’s job, he said, is in great part being a go-between for town staff and the elected council, but also it’s about making sure the council’s will happens and is understood by the public.

For things to happen, the council has to approve those changes or new initiatives, but Sutherland said, “I’m trying to find other ways to engage with the community.”

Atlantic Avenue and Holland Ave Update

An example of the town manager acting as assisting staff and helping with citizens was detailed at the last “Manager’s Minutes” when Sutherland spoke about the town’s infrastructure projects. That came up again at this meeting when he fielded a question about Holland Avenue, which had a service repair earlier this morning and has an upcoming longer-term project, which is essentially a relining of pipes beneath the road’s surface. One resident worried about the sidewalks on the street, which she said are problematic on the narrow road which is a major thoroughfare from Malvern-Belmont to Hannaford’s.

Because of the tourists and summer residents who visit Bar Harbor every year, the town supports more than the 5,000 residents. According to the town’s Existing Conditions Analysis Report, released in October,

“Major investment is needed on Bar Harbor’s municipal infrastructure. This includes a recent bond for updating the wastewater collection system, stormwater and water systems. However, this will not address all capacity limitations or future demands. Approximately 5% of Bar Harbor’s population is served by sewer infrastructure and 16% of the town is served by water infrastructure.”

The town has a $43 million infrastructure bond that was passed in June, which covers some infrastructure projects including one on Atlantic Avenue where ground water is seeping through people’s yards and into one basement.

Water had been infiltrating a sewer pipe four or so years ago, Sutherland said. When the town repaired that pipe, the surface water went somewhere else rather than escaping through the hole in the pipe.

That somewhere else was a basement in an Atlantic Avenue residence. That resident has to pump water out of his house almost daily.

Sutherland has a tentative meeting set with home owners on Atlantic Avenue, Hancock Lane, and Hancock Street for December 9. Part of the issue is that the town has a pump station on the end of Devilstone Way, access to that pump station is granted via easements by private property owners.

Role of a Town Manager – Citizens’ Initiatives and the Town

According to Chron, “Town managers are appointed by the people in charge of local governments. Municipal forms of government determine the duties of mayors and town or city managers.”

The Bar Harbor Town Charter details the town manager’s roles and duties.

via town charter

When citizens’ initiatives pass or fail, it becomes the role of the town manager to help staff implement those new rules. In the November election, there were two substantial changes to how Bar Harbor works: cruise ship disembarkation changes and the two-thirds majority rule. Sutherland’s responsibility is to support those changes and determine how to enact them. His responsibility is the same when the Bar Harbor Town Council creates changes or makes decisions.

Two-Thirds Majority

The first is the two-thirds majority rule’s eradication. The rule had gone into effect when a planning board votes against a council-suggested change to the town’s Land Use Ordinance. When that happened, the town voters had to pass a measure by two-thirds.

“I’m really glad that one passed,” Sutherland said.

His reasoning was that if there’s a citizens’ initiative, it doesn’t have go through the two-thirds vote in November if the planning board votes against the idea.

“There are fewer hurdles for a citizen change rather than a council requested change,” Sutherland said.

Others had argued that by having the measure brought by citizens, rather than the council (elected officials), meant that there was a check on the process and the power of the elected officials. Others countered argued that the council represent the people already because they are elected by the people.

Erica Brooks, a former Planning Board member and broker with the Swan Agency has an active lawsuit against the town. The lawsuit relates to the two-thirds rule and states that the town didn’t apply the charter and town code correctly when it created rules about weekly rentals. That’s because the planning board didn’t give a majority recommendation on the changes, which are part of the land use ordinance. When voting on whether to recommend the change, the board tied, two-two. A member had not been at the meeting because a family member had a medical need. Ed Bearor, working as town attorney, had said that a tie vote mean that the town did not need a two-thirds majority because the town didn’t mean “do not pass.”  

Sutherland did not mention the lawsuit at the meeting.

Marijuana Petition

Sutherland did mention his worries about the citizens’ initiative to pass retail marijuana.

“I had a lot of issues in how that was drafted,” he said.

The petition to change the LUO and licensing piece would have allowed a limited number of retail marijuana stores in some parts of Bar Harbor. However, the wording created a zone in Bar Harbor that didn’t exist and then the licensing would be a one-time event rather than an annual renewal, which is how most licensing works within the town. Weekly rentals, amusement permits, and others have to be renewed each year.

“I hope that in the future citizens’ initiatives work with staff,” he said.  “The licensing ordinance was very different than how they usually work.”

If the changes had gone through, it would have made a lot of work for the staff of the town to implement those changes and also deal with potential legal concerns. If it had passed, Sutherland said that he would have asked councilors to clean up the language.

“At what point will that be overwhelming for staff?” another woman asked.

Sutherland said he’d prefer that changes went through the council and wasn’t encouraged by the process that the town currently has.

“It makes it very easy for the public to craft bad policy, not that it’s a bad theory or something we don’t want to do for the community,” he said. “I’d rather be in a position to say that I support the citizens’ initiative because I know we can implement this.”

Kevin Sutherland on Wednesday. Credit: Carrie Jones

With the initiatives for marijuana and cruise ship disembarkations this year, he said, “I was trying to make the community aware of the challenges. I know it’s going to come up again.” He later added, “I look like the bad guy when I say, ‘whoa, whoa,’ and the community supports it,”  but he said that he does that because he’s trying to make sure that something works.

The marijuana issue was a great example of why it’s important to work with town staff or the council, he said, because the land use element made up a zone that didn’t exist. “Had the petitioners shared that early enough on in the process for staff and myself to review…? It was unfortunately given to us so late in the game that we couldn’t make the change,” he said.

People at the meeting asked what would happen if the council wasn’t supportive of a change that was supported by a citizens’ initiative. Sutherland said that he doesn’t think council would tell him to not work with citizens.

“I’d rather be in a position working with the community rather than fighting with the community,” he said.

“How can we get rid of the polarization?” one woman asked. “It’s not just this community.” She said that polarization was an issue bigger than Bar Harbor and was occurring on multiple levels, including the state and the country.

“Part of it’s trust, rebuilding that trust, owning when we make mistakes and trying to move forward,” Sutherland said.

And as if to prove his point, by the end of the meeting, when everyone was discussing alternative ways to find town revenue, that same woman who wondered what Sutherland does said, “I have faith in you, Kevin. You can do it.”

“We’ll see. . . . We’ll see . . . “ Sutherland said.

“I have faith in you. You can do it,” she repeated.

The next Manager’s Minutes schedule:

December 7.

It will focus on budget input; 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; other questions and topics always encouraged during discussion.

December 21.

This will be a recap of the past calendar year and hopes and dreams for next year, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; other questions and topics always encouraged during discussion.

People are welcome to drop in at any time and do not have to stay for the entire session. All are held at the Jesup Memorial Library


Bar Harbor Infrastructure Needs Are A Ticking Time Bomb

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