PORTLAND — The Maine Attorney General’s Office has concluded its review of emails regarding short-term rentals sent to city councilors.
“We have reviewed the emails, and we have concluded that there is no basis for a criminal investigation at this time,” Mills’ spokesman Timothy Feeley said Wednesday.
Attorney General Janet Mills had been asked by Mayor Ethan Strimling to look over emails sent by Danforth Street resident and short-term rental host Ken Thomas to members of the City Council Housing Committee.
On Monday, Strimling said an Oct. 31, 2016, email Ken Thomas sent to City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who was then a Housing Committee member, worried him because Thomas said the group of short-term rental hosts known as Share Portland was prepared to make a “$10,000 investment as a ‘down payment’ on solving a major city problem.”
The message said the group could contribute $100,000 or more annually for late-night bus service or to help families burdened by high rents. It suggested the contributions could be a hedge against future regulations.
“It is going to be hard to do that to us if we are raising a lot of money for some deserving city cause,” Thomas said in the message.
Strimling said the suggestion “certainly feels inappropriate to me.”
On Tuesday, Thomas said his intent was not to seek favor from the council.
“If anyone is suggesting it is some sort of quid pro quo, that is nonsense,” he said.
Thomas has been cited for not complying with city zoning at the short-term rental he operates at 481 Danforth St., although the city is not enforcing the rules until the regulations are sorted out.
Thomas’ email also advocated for some city regulations of short-term rentals.
“(Owners of short-term rentals are) a group comprised of a lot of good people who do a lot of good for Portland and are being in some cases being maligned as greedy,” he said.
Strimling initially sought an opinion on the emails Jan. 22 from city Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta.
“I would agree that this proposal is somewhat concerning,” West-Chuhta replied Jan. 23, although she said she did not think any state laws were violated.
“To the best of my knowledge I do not believe that any City elected official or employee has pursued this offer. … As such, I do not see anything further that needs to be done on this matter,” she concluded.
On Monday, Strimling said because West-Chuhta generally deals with civil law, he still wanted an opinion about potential criminal violations. The mayor said he was not concerned about Thibodeau, who did not respond to the email, and believed Mills should review the entire package of emails.
“(It) came very close to a line for me. I’m not an attorney, but I have been an elected official for a long time,” Strimling said.
The request to Mills also frustrated Thibodeau. He said Strimling focused on the one email that implicates Thibodeau, and noted Strimling did not notify him of his request to Mills.
“No one responded to the email and it was consistent with (Thomas’) statements in public,” Thibodeau said Monday.