Candidates! Candidates! Candidates! More throw in their hats for elections
BAR HARBOR—Tact. Smarts. A good coordinator. Conciliation. A tough skin and tender heart. Those are just a few of the desired town manager characteristics that came up during a two-hour session about Bar Harbor’s search for a new town manager on Thursday. Sarah Gilbert, the town’s finance director, is the interim town manager. Kevin Sutherland, the former town manager, left the office in January. The Thursday meeting ended up also being a discussion of town government, transparency and town needs.
Eight members of the public, two reporters, interim Town Manager Sarah Gilbert and David Barrett of the Maine Municipal Association gathered at a twice-rescheduled meeting that led off with Appeals Board Chair Ellen Dohmen speaking to her concerns about the town and the hopes she had for the future. This led to multiple people voicing their thoughts about qualities needed in a town manager; desire for inclusion and diversity and equity in the outreach; the bigger issues in the town; and the need for transparency.
Three members of the council sat at the table with Barrett. Barrett is in charge of the search. The rest sat in the audience area. The public workshop was not on Zoom or streamed. It had been rescheduled twice because of weather.
The final half hour of the event discussed process and public participation in the search. No hard decisions were made about the process. Council Chair Valerie Peacock will meet with Barrett about possibilities for public involvement and the steps of the search. She or Barrett will then let the council know their thoughts.
Councilor Jill Goldthwait said that she wanted the current council’s engagement in the initial resume review. Councilor Gary Friedmann said he’d also like town community members and staff be part of the weeding of the initial group of applicants.
It’s such an intense relationship between the council and the manager, Goldthwait said, which made her want councilors to be part of multiple steps in the process. That intent does not exclude staff or public involvement.
Council Chair Valerie Peacock mentioned that the council itself is not a static body. This election there are four seats being contested, which is a majority of seats on the seven-person council. She worried about the power dynamic on a search committee if it was weighted too heavily with councilors. And she stressed that it was important to have structured feedback from the public.
Barrett said that the council had until Tuesday to refine the qualities mentioned in the advertisement for the position. The ad would run March 22 or 23 until April 17. The actual culling process would begin the week after that with the second round of interviews in late May or early June.
The election for the council seats is June 13. Councilors are sworn in the day after. It was mentioned that it might be good for all the candidates for council to meet the candidates for town manager. Six people have taken out papers to run.
“I love Bar Harbor. I want to serve Bar Harbor. And I want Bar Harbor to be served well,” Ellen Dohmen said. This meeting was the first she’d been to in person in three years. “So this is how important this is to me.”
Dohmen said that while Bar Harbor is a small place, it is not a small town. “The constraints and pressures of our town are not like any other lovely coastal village in New England. Any candidate that comes to us has to understand that.”
She also wanted a town manager candidate to understand that Bar Harbor is one of many interconnected towns on the island. She wanted them to be able to delegate but not micromanage as well as understand the need and nuances of a local option sales tax.
“I think we’re losing our sense of community and cohesiveness and I am so eager for us to get that back,” she said.
She also spoke to concerns about current infrastructure needs and future potential infrastructure needs to support housing. Councilor Joe Minutolo said that Dohmen “hit a lot of points, but how do we get there?” He said he’d like to see a town manager that is fiscally responsible, creative in finding new revenue sources, organized, and understands timelines, sees the big picture, and who is a person that is solution based who could empower but not micromanage the staff to bring solutions to the council.
Mike McKernan said that he’d like someone with a good sense of prioritization and the ability to communicate and justify council decisions.
Councilor Erin Cough said that the person coming into the position has to understand and prioritize and address the concerns of the year round community but still understand that the driving industry is tourism. She hopes for someone economically savvy.
“We have a hospital. We have a college. We have two world class scientific research facilities,” she said, but the town’s fishing industry has moved to another part of the island because there just isn’t space. Finding room and space for other industries is important.
Minutolo said that tourism has taken up all the oxygen in the room. He said that the town keeps asking the same 5,000 people in the community to support everything via their property taxes and that the town needs to get a return on its investment somehow. “The same 5,000 can’t keep the ship going.”
Appeals Board member Cara Ryan said that during the last search, 18 months ago, there were fewer people in the room. She said the town seems to be getting clearer on its priorities. A manager who listens well, creatively processes information and helps others with their own specialized skills to move forward were all traits she thought were important.
Harbor Committee member Micala Delepierre said she doesn’t think it’s realistic for the town to expect to get perfect solutions for all its problems. “We have to find a way as a town to make uncomfortable decisions. It takes a lot of trust. It takes a lot of trust in our council and it takes a lot of trust in the town manager.”
Maya Caines, the town’s former communications coordinator, said that seven towns in Maine are currently looking for town managers. A letter by Brooke “Zana” Blomquist said the same, mentioning Kennebunk, Norway, Winthrop, and Waterville as some of those towns. Ryan suggested that the town think of putting the house before the manager and think of searching for potential housing now if the candidate comes from off the island.
Others spoke of looking into the core values that reflect all townspeople, transparency between the council, manager, and the community, forward planning thinkers with a toolbox for coping with stress, creating a checks and balances within the town government, and making the position more desirable to attract candidates.
It’s a lot of traits and a lot of skill sets.
“It’s a crazy hard job, I think,” Peacock said near the end of the meeting.
The Bar Harbor elections are heating up. Multiple people have signaled an intent that they might potentially run for the three contested three-year council seats. Those who have already pulled papers include: incumbent Council Chair Valerie Peacock, Councilor Erin Cough, former Communications Coordinator Maya Caines, Gary “Bo” Jennings, Cosmo Nims, Comprehensive Planning Committee Chair Kyle Shank, former Bar Harbor assessor and former Southwest Harbor Town Manager Justin VanDongen and former Police Chief Nate Young.
The seats that are available are those of Peacock, Cough and Jill Goldthwait.
There is also a two-year seat available because of Councilor Jeff Dobbs’ resignation. Brooke “Zana” Blomquist, Keith Goodrich, and Charles Sidman have taken out papers for that position.
For the Superintending School Committee (Conners Emerson School) it’s Misha Mytar and Robin Sue Tapley whose spots are available. Mytar has taken out papers. She had been appointed to the committee this year to fill out a resigning member’s term.
For the Warrant Committee, the five members up for reelection are Carol Chappell, Kevin DesVeaux, Allison Sasner, Secretary Christine Smith, and Bethany Reece. So far, Chappell, Julia Cuchelo, DesVeaux, Shaun Farrar, Elizabeth Lemire Sasner, and Smith have taken out papers.
No one has yet taken out papers for the position on the high school trustee board.
There are no term limits and incumbents can run for reelection. Pulling papers is the first step in running for office, but people can take out forms, not return them and therefore not run.
Papers are available now for all open seats. Those papers are available at the town clerk’s office on Cottage Street in the municipal building.
Pulling papers is the first step in running for office, but people can take out forms and not return them.
The deadline for filing nomination papers with the Town Clerk is Friday, April 14, 2023 at 5:00 p.m..
There are also numerous board and committee vacancies. To start the application process candidates must fill out, sign, and return the Boards and Committees Application to the town clerk.
*Shaun Farrar writes an occasional article for the Bar Harbor Story.
CORRECTION! We were told that Nathan Young was running for the two-year seat when at the town office. We have verified that this in error. The story now shows that Mr. Young is running for a three-year seat.
All photos: Carrie Jones
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On The Agenda and Nomination Papers Available
BAR HARBOR—It’s our weekly piece documenting Bar Harbor town government and other similar meetings that we know of. Please let us know if we’ve missed something. Also, sometimes things are on the town calendars and are cancelled or rescheduled, so make sure to double check before you head over…
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