Bangor’s government watchdog group is set to begin its investigation later this month into whether a city councilor broke ethics rules by not disclosing a conflict of interest.
The City Council voted on Monday to direct the Bangor Board of Ethics to investigate whether City Councilor Cary Weston violated the city’s code of ethics by failing to disclose his marketing company’s ongoing financial relationship with a tourism group that receives city funding.
The five-person board of ethics is scheduled to begin the investigation on Jan. 23, City Solicitor Norm Heitmann said Wednesday. The board has not been called to investigate a sitting councilor in more than 20 years.
The board will probe whether Weston’s “previous failure to disclose his firm’s financial interest in the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau constitutes an ethical concern requiring further action,” according to the council order.
Weston had deliberated and voted on the city’s budget in June, which included allocating $60,000 to the bureau. Weston abstained from voting on doubling that amount at the July 27 meeting, citing a conflict because his business partner, Elizabeth Sutherland, is the chairwoman of the tourism organization’s board. But he denied at the meeting that his company had an ongoing relationship with the bureau for designing its website.
At a Dec. 27 workshop, Weston admitted he had been mistaken, saying he had only recently learned of monthly payments from the bureau, which has had a contract with Sutherland Weston since 2009.
Weston at the Monday council meeting denied violating the city’s ethics code, saying he was unaware at the time of his financial ties to the bureau.
Councilors are not allowed to “participate in the deliberation or vote, or otherwise take part in the decision-making process, on any agenda item before his or her collective body in which he or she or a member of his or her immediate family has a financial or special interest,” according to the city’s code of ethics.
The ethics board’s proceedings will be public, and it is unclear how long the process will take. The board meets as needed and can set its own meeting schedule as it investigates Weston.
Board members can request any information they need to make their determination, including video recordings of meetings and direct interviews with council members, including Weston.
The council will then decide a course of action, if any, which could include a fine or formal condemnation, also known as censure.
Weston is not required by the city’s charter to attend the ethics board’s public meetings, but he can choose to be voluntarily interviewed by board members during the investigation, according to the city charter.
Members of the board are appointed by councilors and cannot have personal or financial involvement with members of the council, nor can they serve on other committees, Board of Ethics Chairman Michael Alpert said, declining to comment further.
Other board members include John Davis, Thomas Graham, Sherry Anderson and Daniel Degroff.
Other examples of Weston’s potential undisclosed conflicts were cited in a Bangor Daily News report a day after the council vote on Jan. 8. But the council has not decided whether to refer those cases to the ethics board.
“I would need to talk with my fellow councilors and Councilor Weston before I could comment,” Bangor Mayor Ben Sprague said.
In the wake of these examples, Sprague said the council needs to have a discussion about what constitutes a financial interest.
“When does something rise to the level of a conflict of interest, and when is something simply part of the normal activities of the city where there happens to be overlap?” he said.
Weston requested in a Tuesday email to city staff that a workshop be scheduled so the council can hold a “public discussion on the issue of voting, conflict and disclosures.”
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Correction: This story has been corrected to list the newest members of the Board of Ethics.