BLUE HILL — Town committee meetings, such as those discussing the budget, harbor or sea rise, are considered public meetings and should be advertised as such, according to Blue Hill Select Board member Scott Miller.
Miller consulted with the Maine Municipal Association about the issue and updated his colleagues Ellen Best and Jim Dow at the board’s meeting on Monday.
Miller said any meeting where more than two committee members are present is considered a public meeting and is supposed to be advertised and open to the public.
“That’s their advice and they’re pretty sure about it,” Miller said. “I wasn’t happy with the answer, but I got it and it was pretty clear.”
In an email reply about the matter, Miller explained he was hoping that town committees, which are “purely advisory in nature could avoid the overhead” of having to schedule meetings well in advance and work through town staff to get the time and location posted.
Committees will no longer be able to meet in people’s homes or around a table at the Blue Hill Library, Miller said. “Now we’ll have to identify and reserve a space at venues that can handle larger groups. Avoiding these hurdles would have helped these committees get their work done more expeditiously, since the statute isn’t clear on its face as to whether such committees fall under the statute.”
Town Administrator Shawna Ambrose said now that one town committee, on sea level rise, has merged with several other towns, clarification was needed on who would announce when the committee was meeting and how the information would get back to the town office so it could be put on the website for public notice.
Miller said he wanted to make every effort to make sure Blue Hill is complying with the Freedom of Access Act. The select board member said the municipal association agreed that the statute was not clear on the point but pointed to at least one state court case that examined the issue and decided, in a 3-2 decision, that advisory committee meetings are public proceedings subject to the Freedom of Access Act.
In other business, the board granted a liquor license for Pub Ciao, which will operate under the umbrella of Finback Alehouse, which includes the Blaze restaurants in Bangor and Bar Harbor. The enterprise belongs to Matt Haskell and Evelina Kacprzkowska. The new restaurant will be located in the former Thurston’s Co. on Main Street and is slated to open in September, according to the meeting minutes.
The board also discussed a turnout area on the Ellsworth Road, which used to belong to the state of Maine and had functioned at one point in time as a rest area. Best noted that whoever has purchased the property from the state has chained off access to the strip. The issue for Blue Hill is that there is a town-owned road behind the property, which those chains are limiting access to. Ambrose said the town needs to find out who purchased the parcel.