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  • Tammy L Wells

York County Commissioners table proposed proclamation policy pending revisions

“As one commissioner said, we are going to open a can of worms, and here we are,” said Commission Chair Richard Dutremble.

 

ALFRED, Maine – York County Commissioners tabled a proposed policy to address public requests for proclamations or recognitions pending some fine-tuning.


As currently proposed, the proclamation policy would see York County Commissioners consider requests to proclaim “certain events or causes when such a proclamations pertain to a York County event, person, organization or cause with local implications.”  The proposed policy goes on to say that commissioners will consider requests “that are timely, have potential relevance to a majority of the York County population, and either forward positive messages or call upon the support of the community.” The proposal lays out a procedure for public requests for such matters, including that the board would vote on each request.


The county currently has no formal policy to address public requests for proclamations or recognitions. Commissioners had asked County Manager Greg Zinser to draft potential policies they could consider.


But events in some communities in neighboring New Hampshire and elsewhere, among other considerations, has made some commissioners wary, and so Zinser will bring forward an updated version in a subsequent meeting.


Commissioner Richard Clark noted that the Portsmouth (NH) City Council recently spent several hours debating a proclamation on Gaza and that Somersworth NH had a lengthy debate on a proposed proclamation on the subject.


“I don’t see frankly (that) this county should have its own foreign policy,” said Clark. “I don’t want to debate that stuff here; that’s how I feel about it.”


Commission Chair Richard Dutremble said the policy, as currently proposed, could result in requests addressing political or religious topics. “As one commissioner said, we are going to open a can of worms, and here we are,” said Dutremble.


“If you’re concerned about a can of worms, I can come up with some limiting language,” that would be more specific about York County and not address state or national causes, said Zinser.


“That’s the point I am making,” said Dutremble. “People make proclamations on all kinds of stuff and not everyone agrees with it.”


Commissioner Donna Ring said she was glad to see a proposal and noted policies can always be modified if need be.


“I’m fine being the minority voice on the topic,” said Commissioner Justin Chenette. “I don’t think we should limit ourselves in terms of our board authority and our ability as an entity, as an important level of government, to limit our impact and our voice. … I just feel as an elected official sometimes you do have to take a stand. ..how its articulated leaves a little bit of openness, for us to not be so limiting we can’t take any action or stand up for anything.”

Chenette said he favored guardrails, to prevent a flood of requests. “I think we should be encouraging participation in county government,” he said.


Chenette questioned procedural matters as outlined in the proposal, and suggested commissioners, as elected officials, be the first point of contact for those seeking proclamations.


Clark noted most people interested in a proclamation would contact the county offices.

Zinser noted the proposed policy is solely for public proclamations, and that nothing prevents a commissioner from bringing a proclamation forward for the board to consider.

A modified proposal will be considered at a future meeting.


Commissioners unanimously approved a new flag and banner policy that specifies flags on county poles will include the U.S. flag, State of Maine flag, and York County government flags.


The policy notes that that the county’s flagpoles and banner brackets “are not intended to serve as a forum for free expression by the public,” and that ceremonial flags and banners “shall be displayed only as an expression of the county’s official sentiments as evidenced by the majority vote of the County Commissioners.”


During the first public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, Kittery resident Susan Wiswell said she believe the board should shy away from both the flag and proclamation issues. “Its way out of our wheelhouse,” she said.


“I agree with Commissioner Chenette,” said York resident Janet Drew during a second public comment period prior to adjournment. “Every voice matters. … it does matter, and it is coming from you.”


York County Commission Chair Richard Dutremble

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