SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A motion to change the appeals process for issues in the harbor was withdrawn by selectmen Tuesday after the board decided to discuss the matter further with members of the harbor committee.
According to the town’s harbor ordinance, the harbor committee is to hear any appeal of the harbormaster’s actions. But controversy surrounding two recent appeals has led some town officials to wonder if the board of appeals would be a better venue for harbor-related issues.
One appeal in particular was troubling to selectmen who attended the March 29 meeting of the harbor committee. At that meeting, the committee heard an appeal by one of its own members, Weldon “Bunny” Leonard. Mr. Leonard, who is a fisherman, was appealing a summons issued to him for unpaid fines.
According to harbormaster Dennis Dever, Mr. Leonard was issued three citations for overnight docking violations. Each violation was assessed a fine of $25. After Mr. Leonard failed to pay the fines, Mr. Dever summonsed him to court on a charge of violating the harbor ordinance, which carries a minimum fine of $100.
During the hearing, the harbormaster and Mr. Leonard entered into an agreement. Mr. Dever would “do the best he could” to get the case dismissed from court. In return, Mr. Leonard would pay the fines for the three docking violations, a total of $75.
Mr. Dever admits that the arrangement sets a “bad precedent” but promises that it’s not likely to happen again. He said the deal was made for the “good of the committee overall.”
On Tuesday, selectmen who attended that harbor committee meeting said they had concerns about the how the matter was handled.
Selectman Trudy Bickford said she was concerned about the number of committee members who abstained from the vote on Mr. Leonard’s appeal. They abstained without having a “proper reason,” she said.
Chairman Skip Wilson noted that some committee members were reluctant to vote against a colleague.
Ken Hutchins, who serves as chairman of the harbor committee, agreed that having the committee hear appeals is not working.
Selectman Ralph Dunbar said he feels the harbor committee should hear appeals of the harbormaster’s actions because the committee is more knowledgeable about harbor issues than the board of appeals.
Mr. Dever agreed, suggesting that the board of appeals hear administrative appeals and the harbor committee handle appeals of law enforcement actions.
Ms. Bickford made a motion to have all harbor-related appeals heard by the board of appeals and remove the duty from the harbor committee. Kristin Hutchins seconded the motion. After further discussion, the motion was withdrawn. Selectmen are to meet with the harbor committee to discuss the issue jointly.
Any change in the appeals process would need voter approval before going into effect.
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