The Bar Harbor Town Council decided Tuesday to do away with a traditional but unofficial practice for filling a vacancy that comes up before the end of a councilor’s term.
Members of the council agreed that they won’t seek a promise from potential appointees to not seek election to the seat when local voters next go to the polls. The council’s past practice has been to appoint someone who is uninterested in keeping the seat to which he or she is appointed.
The council has the authority to fill a seat on the council when one suddenly becomes vacant, but only until the next municipal election is held. Tuesday’s discussion was prompted by the pending resignation of Councilor Judie Noonan, who will step down on Oct. 31 because she is moving out of town.
The thinking behind appointing someone who is not interested in running for the seat has been to not give anyone a perceived advantage in the subsequent election for the seat, said Councilor Gary Friedmann.
But Friedmann said he doesn’t think the council has the legal authority to make this a requirement of whoever fills the vacancy. Plus, he added, two other council seats will be up for election next June. With Noonan’s pending departure, that could mean a turnover of four councilors on the seven-seat panel in less than a year if Noonan’s replacement does not seek re-election and if two incumbents — Erin Cough and Stephen Coston — don’t run or win re-election to their seats.
In addition, Friedmann said, a majority of voters might want whomever the councilors appoint to stay on the job, and the appointee might decide he or she wants to run.
The rest of the council — except Noonan, who was not at the meeting — said they agreed with Friedmann. They did not vote on the matter, as the past practice has never been a formally adopted policy, but each said they would not make disinterest in keeping the position a prerequisite for potential candidates.
“The people will decide” next June who gets to serve in the position, Councilor Joe Minutolo said.
The council is expected to pick someone to fill Noonan’s seat at its next meeting on Oct. 15.
The most recent time such an appointment was made in Bar Harbor was in October 2011, when Enoch Albert was appointed to temporarily replace Matt Horton, who said at the time he was stepping down from the council for health reasons. Albert did not run for election to the seat the following June.