The Bangor City Council member who now is the target of an ethics investigation has a history of failing to disclose his financial entanglements, the Bangor Daily News has found.
The council voted Monday night 7-2 to direct the city’s board of ethics to probe whether Cary Weston violated the city’s conflict-of-interest rules last June. At that meeting, Weston voted to allocate city funds to a tourism group after failing to disclose his ongoing business connections to it.
“He should have disclosed this at the very beginning of the budget process, if not earlier,” Bangor Mayor Ben Sprague said.
Councilor David Nealley, the only councilor aside from Weston to oppose an ethics investigation, rebuked the idea of involving the ethics committee.
“This is the most egregious thing I’ve seen in all my years on the council,” Nealley said. “Basically, he came forward and honestly conceded to the mistake he made. What are we going to ask the ethics commission?”
This is first time in more than 20 years that the ethics board has been asked to launch a formal inquiry into a sitting councilor.
The city’s code of ethics says, “No city councilor, board member or commission member shall, in such capacity, 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, other than an interest held by the public generally.”
On June 26 Weston voted to allocate $60,000 to the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau. Weston inaccurately said in a public meeting on July 27 that his company, Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications, was no longer receiving payments from the bureau for designing its website. The council voted — with Weston recusing himself — on that date to allocate more funds to the bureau. On Dec. 27, Weston said he had been mistaken and that his firm had indeed still been receiving payments.
”If there’s any question, I think this clearly should be sent to the ethics committee,” Councilor Dan Tremble said. “It just makes it cleaner. We’re not involved in it.”
It’s not the first time that Weston has failed to disclose the full extent of his business dealings.
In a City Council budget workshop on May 10 and during a June 26 workshop, Weston championed a proposal for Bangor to start an airplane mechanic program that would benefit a local aircraft maintenance company, a client of his company’s. During the May workshop, Weston also participated in discussions about the fiscal 2018 budget of another client, Bangor International Airport. He did not mention possible conflicts in either meeting.
His firm has a contract with the aviation service company, C&L Aviation Group, and does its marketing, including website design. The name Sutherland Weston can be found at the bottom of the business’ homepage. And Sutherland Weston has had a contract with the city-run airport since 2009 to provide public relations. In 2017, the city paid Sutherland Weston nearly $5,000 for its services, according to city records.
Weston did not recuse himself from discussions about a new five-year contract between the city and the American Folk Festival during a June 12 City Council meeting, even though his company was listed as a sponsor of the festival last year in exchange for a variety of marketing benefits.
“The American Folk Festival is one of many organizations and causes we donate time to and work with in the community, and it is difficult to separate yourself from many organizations throughout the community,” Weston said at the time.
To abstain from a vote, a council member must first tell other councilors about a possible conflict of interest. The council then votes on whether that member’s reason qualifies as a true conflict.
Weston last week said, “I do my best” to disclose conflicts to the council.
According to city records, he has recused himself from three council votes since he was elected to a second term in November 2016.
On July 10, he left the room during a closed door discussion about a city contract with Hollywood Casino. Sutherland Weston’s Public Relations Director Dan Cashman was the spokesman for the casino at the time.
On July 27, Weston cited a conflict of interest on a vote to increase the city’s appropriation of money to the convention and visitors bureau, after approving the initial funding a month prior. The council voted 7-1 for his recusal — the reason, Weston said at the time, was because his business partner, Elizabeth Sutherland, was chairwoman of the bureau’s board. He explicitly denied that his company was receiving ongoing payments for designing the bureau’s website, which was false, Weston told council members last week.
During a Dec. 27 vote to switch from Penobscot Energy Recovery Company to Hampden-based Fiberight as the city’s solid waste disposal company, Weston cited a conflict because his firm did work for both businesses. The council voted and Weston recused himself.
At Monday’s vote, Weston questioned the need for an ethics probe.
“This order should not even be on the agenda,” Weston said. “I’m not sure why this council is seeking an outside opinion on an ordinance that has not been violated.”
BDN writer Danielle McLean contributed to this report.