Falmouth council agrees to work on conflict of interest policy

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council on Monday night began discussing what a conflict of interest policy could look like.

Councilor Russell Anderson said that after speaking with former town councilors and the town attorney, and looking into policies in Bangor, Rockport and Kennebunk, as well the state policy, he came to the conclusion a local policy is needed.

Falmouth doesn’t have an existing policy on conflict of interest.

“I’m suggesting we need a clear, broader policy (than the state’s),” Anderson said.

Anderson came up with four components for discussion. In a memo to the council, he said “a conflict of interest arises when specific circumstances exist such that a councilor may reasonably be presumed to be motivated by a personal interest as opposed to the public interest.”

Councilors generally agreed that a conflict exists when an issue before the council could have a direct financial benefit or detriment to a councilor or their family, or a direct financial impact a councilor’s employer or their family’s employers.

But other circumstances are “murkier,” council Chairwoman Karen Farber noted.

Anderson gave an example of the town’s proposal to donate land to Habitat for Humanity, an issue that could have direct financial impact on an outside organization where a councilor may hold a leadership position.

Now, there’s no policy governing that councilor’s behavior. “I think that’s wrong,” Anderson said.

Things became less clear when Councilor Sean Mahoney asked if a councilor who also is on the Falmouth Education Foundation board could vote on the school budget.

He said it is difficult to be president of another organization while on the council, referring to Councilor Caleb Hemphill, who served as the Falmouth Land Trust’s president from January until resigning in May. Hemphill had also been vice president.

A final component suggested by Anderson, which most councilors didn’t support, regarded any appearance of a conflict. Anderson said this is more subjective, and gave examples of a councilor who may live at Tidewater Farm while the council is discussing changing it’s Master Plan.

“Right now (the council has) seven different conflict of interest policies,” Anderson said, referring to the opinions of the seven councilors. “It seems to me we need to have one.”

Councilor Charlie McBrady said he has trouble with the fourth component.

“We all live here,” McBrady said. “There are too many conflicts of interest if we get down to that level.”

“Financial benefits are the best metric for defining conflict of interest,” Hemphill added.

Councilors agreed it would be best to have an educational session with the town attorney during their annual retreat in July, and will hold a workshop on the issue at some point in August.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.