York County commissioner describes ethics dispute between commissioners, budget committee

Posted Oct. 07, 2013, at 3:01 p.m.

OGUNQUIT, Maine — It was the presentation by York County Commissioner Gary Sinden that received the most attention at the Tuesday, Oct. 1 meeting of the Ogunquit Board of Selectmen. Sindin was invited to help clarify the York County Commissioners position on an ongoing legal dispute with the County Budget Committee.

Sinden began by presenting a number of documents to the board including the county’s recently enacted code of ethics at the center of the controversy, legal opinions and excerpts from state statute pertaining to the county budgeting process and the role of both the commissioners and the budget committee.

“In my opinion the divide between the commissioners and the Budget Committee is really over perceived authority. The Budget Committee perceives, in my opinion, that they are a body that should act like a legislative body of the county [and that] they should have a voice in policy, but there is no basis in statute,” Sinden said.

“Their role is to determine the assessment to the towns,” Sinden continued. “The Budget Committee can create money by approving budget items, they have no authority to spend money and one of these complaints we’ve had over time is that they’ll perhaps add something to the budget — a new line — they have no authority to do that.”

As an example, Sinden recalled an incident where the Budget Committee had voted to cut a line item in the itemized estimated budget prepared by the commissioners and forwarded to the committee. The committee then added a new line item of approximately the same dollar amount of the line they had omitted.

“First of all, they can’t add a line,” Sinden said. “Secondly, their job is to look out for the best interests of the towns … but in this case they failed in that mission.”

The dispute grew deeper when the commissioners contended that two Budget Committee members who had been active in the discussions that led up to the Budget Committee’s budget recommendations had conflicts of interest in this matter and should have removed themselves from the relevant discussions that led up to the vote, Sinden said. Shortly after this incident the commissioners had legal counsel draft a code of ethics for the county, which the commissioners enacted, Sinden said. A number of Budget Committee members viewed the new code of ethics as a retaliatory action and have since refused to fill out the disclosure statement and certification pages that are integrated into the document, he said.

In the end, the board concluded that the answer of where each party’s authority begins and ends is a statutory matter that will only be determined by a judge in a court of law.

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