Rockport voters asked to clarify rules for Select Board members

Posted April 15, 2010, at 9:40 p.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — The Select Board decided Monday night to ask voters to amend the town’s charter to specify that board members may enter into business contracts with the town as long as they go through the competitive bid process.

The issue will be added to the warrant for the annual town meeting in June.

Vice Chairman William Chapman and board members Alexandra Fogel and Dale Landrith voted for the measure to ask the town to amend the charter, stating that current rules regarding board members doing business with the town are unclear.

Board members Thomas Farley and Chairman Robert Duke, who have done business with the town, abstained from the vote.

Duke and Farley have performed more than $120,000 in paid work for Rockport while serving as board members. Duke’s three-year term ends in June, and Farley’s three-year term ends in June 2011.

Several town members attending Monday’s meeting said they believe the work deals violate the town charter, which states that Select Board members “shall not have a business relationship with the Town for which they receive compensation.” If the men were found in violation of this, it would disqualify them from holding seats on the board.

Because of various interpretations of the charter, it is unclear whether the men’s actions violated the charter.

At the recommendation of the town attorney, the board voted to hold a hearing to decide whether Farley’s and Duke’s actions violated the charter.

That meeting, which will be open to the public, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, at the Rockport Opera House. At the meeting, Farley and Duke are expected to discuss their business dealings with the town.

Duke said in a phone interview that if the board decided that he and Farley should step down, they would.

Duke owns Floor Magic in Rockport and Damariscotta. In his time on the board, he has received $7,171.28 from the town for goods and services. These include the purchase and installation of flooring in public buildings, according to town documents. Duke said the work his company did for the town was not contracted.

Farley is vice president of Farley & Son Landscaping Inc. His company, during his time on the board, received $116,365.86 in compensation for goods and services including formal bids and no-bid contracts for town landscaping work, according to town documents.

Chapman said he voted for the amendment because the wording “business relationship” in the charter is unclear. He said that through definitions he has found online, a relationship has to be something that is ongoing, unlike contracts that are awarded for specific periods of time.

“It needs clarification,” he said.

Robert Nichols, a Rockport resident and former Select Board chairman, was one of a handful of people who spoke at the meeting Monday night.

“If you are receiving compensation through a business relationship, then you are not qualified, by my interpretation. And if you are not qualified, you need to forfeit your office,” he said.

In reply to Nichols’ comments, Duke asked whether Nichols thought he and Farley used their offices for personal gain. Nichols said yes.

Farley responded to the comments, stating that his board actions are not beneficial to Farley & Sons and that he is not the owner of the business, he is an employee.

Duke said in a phone interview that his actions were not violations of the charter and that he plans to fight the allegations brought against him. He said he had contemplated resigning, but “the more I thought about my involvement with the little [work] I did with the town, I’m more convinced than ever that I will fight this and I’m not worried about being removed. If I am, I am. If I’m not, I’m not.”

The Maine Municipal Association declined to comment because Rockport is an MMA member.

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