Bangor councilor censured for LePage ‘hits the bars’ comment; apologizes again

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff
Posted June 24, 2013, at 9:51 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor City Council chastised its youngest member on Monday night for saying two weeks ago that “folks say [Maine Gov. Paul LePage] hits the bars pretty heavy.”

Councilors voted 7-1 to formally censure Councilor Charlie Longo for his comments.

“These remarks were inappropriate, offensive and disrespectful of the governor …,” Council Chairman Nelson Durgin said. “These remarks have no place in the deliberations of the city council.”

After the censure passed, Longo, who left the room for the vote, said he regrets his “inappropriate” statements, which “had no place in the deliberations of this body.”

He said the comments served as a distraction from the important fiscal issues facing the city.

Councilor Joe Baldacci was the lone councilor to vote against the censure, saying he and others rebuked Longo after he made his comments.

“I think he has since apologized and I believe that his apology is sincere,” Baldacci said, arguing that Longo had received enough criticism.

“As elected city officials, we are held to a much higher standard than a regular citizen is in this city,” said Councilor Patricia Blanchette. “When we open our mouths, anything we say can represent all nine elected officials. This was demeaning to our position, insulting to the governor and cannot and should not and will not be tolerated by any councilor that serves on the Bangor City Council.”

Longo’s comments during the council’s June 10 public meeting drew sharp criticism from fellow councilors. He declined to apologize during the meeting, but issued a statement expressing his regrets the next day and also called the governor’s office to apologize.

“I say this with the utmost respect,” Longo said. “But, you know, if Gov. LePage is not busy enough to go to Jamaica, if Gov. LePage isn’t busy enough to go — I have not personally confirmed this, but, folks say that he hits the bars pretty heavy. But, if he has enough time to make it to those meetings or those junkets, to those nightclubs, whatever it is, he has the time to sit down with our mayor, with our city councilors, to discuss the issues that face the state of Maine. I don’t care if it’s at the Sea Dog or at Diamonds, I will sit down with Gov. LePage anywhere to discuss this issue.”

Gov. LePage has drawn sharp criticism for public comments of his own, most recently when he said Democratic Sen. Troy Jackson “claims to be for the people but he’s the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.” LePage has declined to respond to Longo’s comment.

The last time the council censured one of its own was in 2010. Former Councilor Hal Wheeler was publicly reprimanded after he used a concealed audio recorder to tape a discussion with then-interim City Manager Bob Farrar, Finance Director Debbie Cyr and Solicitor Norman Heitmann.

While that action didn’t violate any state or local laws, it raised strong ethical concerns among Wheeler’s fellow councilors.

Despite this becoming the second censure of a Bangor councilor in three years, such responses are rare in Bangor city government. After Wheeler’s censure, Heitmann and Farrar, who have been with the city for 16 and 22 years, respectively, said it was the only censure they had seen in their tenures. Searches in Bangor Daily News archives don’t yield any results from recent decades.

Other former councilors, including Richard Stone, Richard Green and Geoff Gratwick, were threatened with censures in the past 20 years, according to past BDN stories. None of those resulted in votes.

Stone’s censure consideration came in 1993 after he missed several meetings without explanation. Gratwick’s came after he voiced displeasure with the dismissal of former City Manager Ed Barrett in 2009. In 2008, Greene was arrested and charged with forging Barrett’s signature, but he resigned before the council had a chance to vote on a censure.

“I believe public service is about being honest, even when you make a mistake,” Longo said, adding that he feels he has learned from this controversy and hopes the council can move forward with its important business.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/06/24/news/bangor/bangor-councilor-censured-for-lepage-hits-the-bars-comment-apologizes-again/ printed on December 22, 2014