CAMDEN, Maine — Three of the 14 warrant articles on the November town ballot provoked discussion last week at the Camden Select Board’s meeting because of the origin of the articles and the concern of two town officials that some explanatory notes on the ballot could lead to a legal challenge.
The three articles, which began as petition-generated questions last spring, will be on the ballot but without accompanying explanatory notes.
Instead, the town will spend $1,500 to $2,000 to mail a newsletter to every registered voter. The mailer will contain the board’s explanation of all 14 articles.
Town Attorney William Kelly told the board of a provision in the town’s charter that deals with amendments to zoning ordinances.
“It says that we should not use language that is prejudicial or argumentative,” he said.
Selectwoman Anita Brosius Scott pointed out an inconsistency in the formats of some of the articles on the warrant because some had explanatory notes and some did not. Brosius Scott said it makes sense to offer explanations on all the articles.
For example, she found the explanation with Article 2 about the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area to be helpful in understanding the article, she told the board.
“I advocate that we have similar clarification notes that are not prejudicial or that are not argumentative but help the citizens understand what it is they are voting for or why it is on the warrant,” she said.
She said it was the board’s responsibility to help residents understand the work done by their representatives.
“When it is not clear why we want a law changed, that has more of a tendency to instill doubt and concern than a paragraph helping to explain in plain English what’s going on,” she said.
“I strongly advocate for some kind of explanatory note after every warrant article to help the voters understand why it is before them,” she said.
Select Board member Karen Grove said she agreed with Brosius Scott.
“It doesn’t look to me as if we’re pushing one side or another,” Grove said. “I don’t see anything here that looks prejudicial or argumentative at all.”
She said if all the other articles had explanations and the petitioned ones had none, “it’s going to look devious.”
Selectwoman Sharon Gilbert said she liked the brevity of Brosius Scott’s explanations in a newsletter.
Articles 12 and 13 are about the town-owned Apollo Tannery property. Article 14, also initiated by residents’ petition, asks voters whether they want to amend the Camden zoning ordinance by prohibiting all residential, inn, hotel and motel uses in the Harbor Business District.
Since the voters approved similar Articles that had been approved by the board and the planning board in June, Kelly and Board Chairman John French Jr. said there might be legal challenges by the petitioners if the wording were changed in the articles to include explanations.
Brosius Scott has compiled a list of explanations to go with the ballot questions in the newsletter.