December 10, 2019
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City councilor could have violated city ethics rules when he allegedly asked to have a Trevor Noah book signing

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Gibran Graham

A local concert promoter has alleged that Bangor City Councilor and local bookstore owner Gibran Graham requested that he help him arrange a book-signing event with Trevor Noah at his business next month when the comedian and host of “The Daily Show” is scheduled to perform a standup routine on the Bangor waterfront.

Graham’s alleged request — which he denied making — could have put him in violation of city ethics rules, as Waterfront Concerts owner Alex Gray was in the middle of negotiating with the city an extension of his company’s contract to hold concerts on the Bangor waterfront.

Those rules bar public officials from using their office for personal gain or accepting favors from people with business before the city.

Graham owns The Briar Patch, a book and toy store located at 27 Central St. in Bangor’s downtown.

However, at a regular City Council meeting Monday night, he cast the lone vote in opposition to extending the contract with Waterfront Concerts. The council voted 8-1 to approve the extension. Graham did not say why he opposed it.

Before that meeting, Graham told councilors that a conversation he had with Gray when they saw each other at a downtown restaurant in early June “was definitely, definitely a poor choice,” but that he did not mean it as a request for a favor. He also said he did not think he had violated any ethics rules.

“I think we are at a weird, he-said-he-said position, where clearly Alex has said that this is how it went down, and I know for a fact myself that was not the way it went down,” Graham said. “There was no favor asked and no favor given.”

Before its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, the City Council decided against referring the allegation against Graham to the city’s Board of Ethics for an investigation. Later Monday night, councilors did not ask Graham to recuse himself from voting on the contract extension.

Bangor City Solicitor Norm Heitmann outlined the allegation in a memo sent to city councilors Friday, just three days before the council was due to consider extending the contract with Gray’s company, Waterfront Concerts, through at least 2032.

On Monday night, Heitmann also provided councilors with a copy of a screenshot of a Facebook message in which Graham asked a Waterfront Concerts employee for help in arranging a book signing with Noah.

“Trevor Noah book signing, day of the show (or following day if he’s sticking around),” Graham said in the message. “Let’s make this happen. We could do it on site, at shop … Who should I talk to at WFC?”

When that message came up, Graham told councilors that he is friends with the employee and that his message was not a request for a favor.

Councilor Ben Sprague pushed back against that explanation and said that while he thought Graham’s intentions were “generally innocent in nature,” he had put Gray in an uncomfortable position by making it appear as though offering that assistance would help him secure a vote.

“Your statement does not jibe with the written documentation,” Sprague said.

In his memo to the City Council, Heitmann said that it’s the council’s responsibility to decide whether officials have violated the city’s ethics rules or have a conflict of interest. He also said councilors can refer alleged violations to the city’s Board of Ethics for an investigation.

According to Gray, Graham mentioned that Trevor Noah had recently published a children’s book and said “that it would be really great for him/his store if I could arrange an in person book signing during or around Trevor’s performance at [Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion] on August 10th.”

Gray initially told Graham that he would help him with the request because of the positive impact it could have on “his business” and “the local economy,” according to his emailed statement, but he then decided against contacting Noah’s touring agent.

“After leaving that dinner I created a draft email to the Touring agent but it is still in my drafts box,” Gray said. “When I started to hear rumblings of this around town I let it sit since I did not want it to appear as if I were attempting to purchase or buy votes.”

The contract extension would require Waterfront Concerts to make $7 million in improvements to Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion and also continue to pay an increasing share of ticket sales to the city. The current contract is due to expire in 2027.

At its regular meeting on Monday, the council was due to consider extending it until at least 2032, with an option to renew it for another 25 years beyond that.

City councilors have been negotiating the last stages of the contract extension in closed-door executive sessions over the past couple of months.

While some councilors have publicly said that they plan to vote for the extension, two of them, Council Chairperson Sarah Nichols and Councilor Laura Supica, said last week they had not yet decided how they would vote.

They have previously expressed concern about an allegation of misdemeanor domestic violence assault against Gray from 2017. Last week, they said that they hope his company is training its employees in recognizing domestic violence and preventing it.

[Bangor will consider extending ties with concert promoter, but domestic violence concerns linger]

Graham did not comment before voting against the extension on Monday night. But in Gray’s emailed statement to city officials, he suggested that he was taken aback by Graham’s alleged request because of his previously stated views.

“I commented to him that I was surprised that he was making this ask since I had heard that he had been outspoken about me and my personal issue on the council level and locally,” Gray said. In response, Graham reportedly said that “he was over the council and wasn’t going to seek re-election.”

Graham, who confirmed that he’s not currently planning to seek re-election in November, is serving his second three-year term on the City Council. He was first elected in 2013.

 

 

Correction: An earlier version of this article misquoted Council Gibran Graham’s statement to the City Council. He said having a conversation with Gray “was definitely, definitely a poor choice.”


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