Newport panel says selectman violated ethics

Posted Sept. 18, 2009, at 1:54 a.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — Selectman Chris Dow faces a letter of reprimand from the board’s three other members after they ruled Wednesday that Dow violated the town’s ethics policy by helping orchestrate a disruption at the polls during last March’s municipal election.

Dow insisted during and after Wednesday’s hearing that he didn’t do what he was charged with and that he will consult with his lawyer, Bob Cox, about whether to appeal the ruling. Cox refused to answer questions from the Bangor Daily News.

“You’ll see that this rolls right off my back,” Dow told a reporter after the hearing. “I’m not thin-skinned.” Dow also faces a second ethics complaint on an unrelated issue, which is scheduled to be heard during the Oct. 7 meeting.

In the initial complaint, Dow is accused of helping organize an incident during the March 13 municipal election in which a woman acted intoxicated while she voted, then claimed she had been harassed by employees of the town.

Witnesses said the woman acted sober before and after voting and that they believed her actions were intended to cause a disturbance, according to Newport police Lt. Randy Wing, who was subsequently asked by the board to investigate the incident.

“People indicated to me that it appeared as though [the woman] had put on a show,” said Wing while summarizing his investigation for selectmen. “There were no findings in her complaint that she had been harassed. She was upset that someone called the police to indicate she was under the influence.”

The state Attorney General’s Office found no grounds for the woman’s claim, according to minutes of the April 15 Board of Selectmen meeting. The Bangor Daily News is not identifying the woman because no charges stemmed from the incident and she could not be reached for comment. Wing took over the investigation after the attorney general’s ruling.

Dow is involved because he requested that a friend — who Selectman Roger Carr alleged was Dow’s campaign manager — give the woman a ride to the polls. Dow, who denied that he had a campaign manager, said he arranged a ride for the woman, just as he would for anyone else. He also said that both the woman and his friend helped with his campaign but denied that he had any knowledge that the woman would create a disturbance. He said he also didn’t know about her alleged charade when he voted with the other selectmen on March 18 to investigate her harassment claim.

Carr alleged on Wednesday that because of Dow’s close relationship with the woman and the person who gave her a ride, he must have known what she did when he voted to investigate her allegations.

“At that time you must have known what had occurred,” said Carr. “You called for an investigation at that time.”

“I didn’t know it was an act,” Dow responded.

Selectman Thomas Breitweg, asked Thursday what motive Dow had for orchestrating the disturbance, said he suspected the ruse was designed to discredit a town employee who was working the election.

“That’s what it was all about,” Breitweg said. “I don’t know exactly how it was going to happen, but that’s what I believe the reason was and I believe Mr. Dow played a role in it.”

The town’s ethics policy bars elected officials from intentionally causing disturbances during elections. The board, including Dow, voted unanimously on Aug. 12 in favor of holding a hearing about Dow’s conduct, according to minutes of that meeting.

After two hours of testimony Wednesday, the board decided that Dow must have played a role in the woman’s actions. Carr, along with Breitweg and board Chairman Richard Parlee, found that he violated the ethics policy and directed attorney Tim Pease, who officiated at the hearing, to draft a letter of reprimand that the board will review at its Oct. 7 meeting.

Dow faces a second allegation, brought by Carr, that at a July 15 board meeting he violated the ethics policy when he questioned the town’s bid process for an engineering contract for the construction of the town’s sand and salt shed. Carr requested the probe during the July 22 meeting.

“To state in a public forum that [Dow] and the rest of the selectmen could have been misinformed by the selection committee, of which I was a member, is considered by me to be behavior unwarranted by a selectman,” said Carr, according to meeting minutes. “I would like to request that a formal review be made by a qualified party to determine if Selectman Dow’s comments were improper.”

The hearing on that matter was postponed so the board can publicly review a recording of the July 15 meeting.

Dow said Thursday during a telephone interview that the allegations against him are the latest evidence of ongoing clashes between himself and the other board members.

“This is the kind of thing that has been going on for quite some time between the board and [me],” said Dow, who is in his second term. “I don’t go with the flow; I speak my mind. If someone from the public has a problem or an issue, I address it with the board in a public forum.”

Breitweg said he’s looking forward to the end of the controversy.

“We just want to put it behind us and start doing things that help the town, not divide it,” he said.

ccousins@bangordailynews.net

938-3315

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