The Bangor City Council next week will weigh whether to trigger an ethics investigation into a member who voted to spend public money on a local organization without disclosing the extent of his own financial ties to it.
City Councilor Cary Weston voted in June to allocate money to the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, which was paying his company for website services — something he did not disclose at the time.
The council will vote on Monday whether to involve the council-appointed board of ethics. If approved, it would be the first time in at least 20 years that the board has investigated a sitting councilor. In a memo to the council Tuesday afternoon, Council Chairman Ben Sprague said he believes there is enough support among councilors to send the issue to the committee.
If Weston’s behavior is found unethical, the council could vote to censure him, or fine him between $100 and $2,500, according to the city’s code of ordinances.
Sprague said he called for an investigation after last month spotting the name of Weston’s company on a form showing expenses paid out by the organization. The bureau had laid out the documents for attendees of its monthly meeting.
Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications, of which Weston is co-owner, was listed as a recipient of monthly payments, Sprague said.
A City Council member has a conflict of interest if he or she deliberates or votes on a matter related to an organization that would directly involve or sustain his or her business, according to the city’s code of ordinances.
“A mistake was made,” Weston said. “I was wrong. It is my responsibility to correct that.”
Weston voted with the council in June to allocate $60,000 to the bureau — which receives city funding in every budget — after previously deliberating with other council members without citing a conflict.
But one month later, at a July 27 meeting, the council voted to double to $120,000 its funding to the bureau. At that meeting, Weston cited a conflict of interest because his business partner, Elizabeth Sutherland, was the chairwoman on the bureau’s board. He did not take part in the vote.
Weston explicitly denied during that meeting that his firm received ongoing payments from the organization, which works to attract visitors to the Bangor area.
“Once it’s purchased, there’s no ongoing revenue [for] the website,” Weston said.
But Kerrie Tripp, executive director for the bureau, confirmed that her organization had an ongoing payment plan with Weston’s firm during the time of that vote, which began in October 2016.
Months later, in the fall of 2017, Sutherland Weston helped the bureau launch its new website, she said. In addition to the payment plan and new website, the bureau pays the marketing firm an annual hosting fee of just under $1,000, for general upkeep and maintenance, Tripp said.
The organization has been a client of Sutherland Weston’s since 2010, and the account is handled by Sutherland, she said.
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