Bangor’s ethics watchdog group on Tuesday will launch its first ever investigation into a sitting city councilor.
The City Council voted earlier this month to ask the Board of Ethics to investigate whether Councilor Cary Weston violated conflict of interest rules by not disclosing the extent of his marketing firm’s financial relationship with the Greater Bangor Convention & Visitors Bureau, an organization that receives city funding.
Weston’s marketing firm, Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications, had been receiving monthly payments from the bureau for redesigning its website — a fact Weston did not disclose during a vote last June to allocate public money to the tourism organization. He later told councilors he was not aware of it.
Weston voted for the city to continue allocating public money to the bureau. In a July vote to double the annual amount to $120,000, Weston cited a conflict of interest and did not participate in the vote. Weston denied that firm was receiving ongoing payments from the bureau for designing its website. Last month, he told councilors that was false.
A Bangor Daily News report earlier this month laid out several other cases where his business mixed with politics.
City Solicitor Norm Heitmann advised councilors in a workshop Monday night not to attend the ethics meeting Tuesday, for fear that their presence might influence board members’ “fair and impartial” decision making process. Weston, who could be called upon by the board to answer questions, said he wasn’t sure yet whether he will attend.
When asked if the situation will cause him to behave differently going forward, Weston said, “no, because everything I’ve known before to be a conflict, I’ve always disclosed.”
Members of the five-person Board of Ethics are appointed by the council and investigate possible council or city staff misconduct, or whether policies align with the city’s code of ethics.
Since it was formed in 1978, the board has never been called upon to investigate the behavior of a sitting councilor, Heitmann said.
The board can only investigate an issue when the council votes for it, and doesn’t have the power to impose a fine. The City Council ultimately decides what form of punishment to take, if any.
The council does have the power to judge whether Weston violated the code, Heitmann said, but it can also lawfully call upon the ethics board, which functions as a neutral third party, for an advisory opinion.
But not all councilors were supportive of the board investigating Weston.
David Nealley said in a recent interview that the council should deal with the issue itself, and argued the incident wasn’t severe enough to involve the board, calling the decision, “a complete violation of process.”
“It is important for the council to maintain self-policing and not refer to a committee of your appointees,” he said. In the past, “certainly that has worked well.”
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Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that Weston's voted for the city to continue funding the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, as it has in past years.