Cape Elizabeth councilors need more time to revise ethics code

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors adopted their goals for the year, but not a proposed Code of Ethics revision, during a Feb. 12 meeting. 

Discussion around amendments to the code began last December after Chris Straw and his wife Hope were elected to the Town Council and School Board, respectively. 

Chris Straw, who deflected questions about a possible conflict during last year’s election campaign, raised the question after he took office.

At a Dec. 11 meeting, the council asked attorney Thomas Leahy to review its rules and Code of Ethics and recommend amendments to make the two documents better align related to conflicts of interest. 

On Monday, the council reviewed draft amendments to the code and voted unanimously to send it to a future workshop for further discussion.

Councilor Valerie Randall said the code was not yet “in sync” with the council’s rules, with which Straw agreed.

Leahy’s revisions eliminated examples of conflicts of interest, or the potential appearance of one, such as “personal investments, or potential financial gain from companies or businesses that contract with the town.”

“The revisions that were made eliminated the examples, but it didn’t (capture) the scope to make it more reasonable,” Straw said. 

Specific questions arose with respect to when and how councilors should disclose a conflict or the potential appearance of one, and whether the council needs to formally accept such disclosure with a vote. 

The rules state councilors must determine by a majority vote whether they think there is a conflict of interest and if a recusal from discussion or a vote is necessary, but the code does not mention a vote. 

“I thought there was universal consensus that the … Code of Ethics as currently drafted is perhaps overly broad and unmanageable in a town of our size,” Straw said.

The council did, however, adopt council goals for 2018. The discussion was originally intended for a workshop Jan. 24, but was postponed because of lack of a quorum, attributed to scheduling conflicts and the flu.

The goals are broken into six objectives: effective leadership, sustainable community, engaged citizens, effective boards and committees, improved infrastructure, facilities and services, and fiscal management.

Councilor Penelope Jordan posed the idea of specific goals under the six categories, such as exploring the possibility of a senior citizen property tax relief program, be “owned” and executed by specific councilors who are passionate about the topic. 

The council unanimously agreed to adopt the goals and assign specific ones to councilors during future workshops. Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan noted that the council has done this in the past. 

“I think we all strongly believe in what we put in here and I think some of us have more ownership for some than others,” Jordan said. “It’s about accountability because you can’t all make it all happen. You’ve got to focus.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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