A Bangor city councilor wants to make it easier for the city to cut ties with contractors who are convicted of violent crimes.
Under Councilor Sarah Nichols’ proposal, if a principal contract holder commits certain crimes, the city could get out of the contract.
“The general premise is to hold the people who we contract with accountable,” Nichols said.
Her proposal comes amid a national wave of sexual harassment and assault allegations against powerful men and just months after the city inked a 10-year deal with a local concert promoter who later pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge. Nichols, along with the rest of the council, in September voted in favor of the contract with Alex Gray of Waterfront Concerts.
The proposal raises serious concerns about legal enforceability, officials said.
“Where Sarah’s coming from is a good place, [but] there’s just a ton of legal complexity to it,” City Council Chairman Ben Sprague said. “I think we have to be wary that a group of elected officials isn’t in a position where they’re able to exert punishment on somebody outside the normal legal procedures.”
The council is early in its discussions of the ordinance — which, if enacted, would be the first of its kind adopted by a municipal government in Maine, City Solicitor Norm Heitmann said.
Under her proposal, the city could cut ties with contract holders for crimes such as domestic or sexual assault, but also “non-physical action, including reckless conduct,” Nichols said. “It gives the city an option if anything happens that reflects poorly on the city.”
Waterfront Concerts owner Alex Gray pleaded guilty in Cumberland County Superior Court last year to a domestic violence charge. A month before his guilty plea, in September, the city and Waterfront Concerts inked a 10-year contract, with Gray as the principal signatory.
Councilors have since expressed a queasiness about having renewed Gray’s contract. At the time of the council’s vote, Gray had been charged but had not yet pleaded guilty.
“I kind of held my nose and voted for him,” Councilor Dan Tremble said. “If there was anybody else we could have had a contract with to put on these concerts, I would have done that and moved on.”
“We’re not advocating for domestic abuse, but we’re also not forcing anyone to go to concerts,” said Councilor Cary Weston. “It does look like an endorsement, on the flip side, for domestic abuse, and I get that,” he said.
Nichols said last week that her proposal is not just about Gray but also the #MeToo movement, which has empowered victims of sexual assault or harassment to speak out. Nichols also cited Maine’s high rate of domestic violence.
One in four women and one in seven men are victims of domestic violence. On average, half of all homicides in the state are tied to domestic violence. Only about 16 percent of homicides nationally are tied to domestic violence, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, a unit of the Justice Department.
But the legality of a policy like this one is squishy, Heitmann said recently at a council workshop.
Part of the problem, he said, is that city staff aren’t held to the same standard. The city could also run the risk of discriminating against who it chooses to enter contracts with and which to end. It would also be hard to enforce, because the city has hundreds of contracts with a variety of businesses, and not all have a principal contract holder, he said.
Meanwhile, Gray has said he would not have agreed the concert contract if it had contained the sort of language Nichols wants.
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To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.