Waiting On a Decision

Town’s requested reconsideration of lawsuit still pending

Carrie Jones

BAR HARBOR—According to Town Council Chair Valerie Peacock and interim Town Manager and Finance Director, Sarah Gilbert, the town is still waiting to hear about their requested reconsideration of the Hancock County Superior Court Justice William Anderson’s Summary Judgement against the town in the case Good v. Town of Bar Harbor.

The town attorney has confirmed that Justice Anderson issued his decision before he retired.  A different judge has been assigned to the case, but she has not ruled on it. 

“There is no time limit for a judge to act on our motion, so it is difficult to predict when the Town might get a decision,” Gilbert said.

The town had originally hoped for a decision by February.

Anderson ruled on October 24 that 2020 changes to the town’s charter were “not appropriate” and “should be set aside,” according to a brief by Anderson.  

Though the court initially said it would have oral arguments, Anderson decided not to “after conducting a thorough review of the issues raised and upon further reflection.” Instead, the court decided without hearing discussion or argument.

The court found that “as a matter of law, the Town of Bar Harbor did not follow the proper procedures when enacting the changes, that the use of improper procedures materially and substantially affected the changes, and the changes should be invalidated.”

Those changes impact multiple aspects of the town’s charter including the composition and election of the Warrant Committee.

Several Bar Harbor voters brought the case to court, led by Michael Good, former Warrant Committee member. Initially, in November 2018, the town created a commission to change the town’s charter. That commission came up with nine changes, and according to the brief, “which  it indicated created ‘changes to 19 areas within the current structure of the Charter’ and constituted a ‘vision for the future of (the town’s) governance.’”

Images from Superior Court brief

The plaintiffs had argued that the changes were “improperly presented to the voters” and therefore violated Maine’s Home Rule Act. This, they said, “materially and substantially affected what changes were ultimately made” to the town’s charter. The court agreed and said that those eight changes “should indeed be invalidated.”

“There are many towns in Maine who have done the exact same thing that Bar Harbor did,” former town manager Kevin Sutherland had said. Those changes occurred before his tenure.

What Bar Harbor did was split out those changes into separate votes rather than combining them as one.

The reconsideration and amendment Sutherland submitted on November 14 asked about the implications of the precedent and/or asking for an amendment to the judgement and how the town should move forward.

The town originally hoped to have the reconsideration so that it could put something on the June ballot to fix the issue. That fix could potentially put those articles that passed together as one for a vote and seeing if they are approved or not, Sutherland had said. The deadline to put things to the voters at the June election is in March.


The brief

Maine Home Rule Statute

2020 Charter Commission Report

Judge Rules 2020 Changes to Bar Harbor’s Town Charter Should Be Set Aside

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