York County commissioners, budget committee take ethics dispute to court

Posted July 18, 2013, at 10:34 a.m.

YORK, Maine — The York County Commissioners and the county Budget Committee are headed to court.

On July 10, the commissioners voted 4-1 to censure the Budget Committee for failing to sign its code of ethics. Immediately afterward, the Budget Committee voted to appeal the decision, sending the conflict to the York County Superior Court.

Although it is unclear how much the legal challenge will ultimately cost, Budget Committee Chairman John Sylvester estimated it could cost each side — and ultimately the taxpayers — as much as $10,000-$15,000.

“This has to get settled,” said Sallie Chandler, chairwoman of the commissioners. “We can’t get along because things have been festering year after year after year. They listened to their attorney, we listened to ours. And now it has to get resolved.”

The commissioners’ code of ethics was adopted a year ago and has been signed by all commissioners and supervisory staff. Chandler said the commissioners are negotiating with unions to include the code in current contract negotiations.

The Budget Committee takes exception to a proviso that states the commissioners can negate a line-item vote by the committee if they feel it is tainted by a conflict of interest.

Such items would then go back to the Budget Committee for another vote.

Sylvester said he and the rest of the committee agree with their attorney that by law, the commissioners have no right to interfere with the committee’s votes.

He said Thursday the committee actually adopted its own code of ethics that deletes that section and makes other modifications to the commissioners’ code.

The committee then presented the modified document to the commission for its consideration, Sylvester said.

“Our attorney said if they don’t accept the code the Budget Committee adopted, then the issue is territorial,” he said. “I would repeat that. The commissioners don’t want any accountability to anyone — except when it comes time to re-elect them.”

Chandler said, to the contrary, the commissioners “look at everything from the point of view of what is best for the county.”

The code of ethics, she said, “benefits everyone because people know it’s the policy we’re living by. When we spend your taxpayer dollar, you can know it’s in someone’s personal interest, it’s in the interest of the county.”

Sylvester said he was “disappointed, but not discouraged” by the commissioners’ vote to censure.

“It’s part of the process and I understand the process very well,” he said.

Chandler said the commissioners’ costs associated with the court challenge would come out of the county’s legal fund.

Sylvester said the Budget Committee is writing a letter to all of the towns in the county asking to help mount the challenge.

But, he said, if necessary, the committee members have to pledge to personally expend the funds.

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