Scarborough to examine councilor's ethics in pesticide decision

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SCARBOROUGH — Town officials are preparing for an ethics hearing triggered by allegations against Councilor Richard Sullivan.

Town Manager Tom Hall said he is drafting a procedure for the hearing, the first since the town adopted new rules and regulations for town councilors in 2009. Those rules provide for a process that could result in the censure of a councilor, but don’t outline that process. 

“A hearing is to be convened,” Hall said. “Then there’s no rules.”

During a debate over the town’s pest management policy, Councilors Carol Rancourt and Karen D’Andrea accused Sullivan of failing to disclose a potential conflict of interest because the town hires Sullivan’s brother, Dan Sullivan, for lawn mowing services.

Councilors are required to file disclosure statements about any family member who makes more than $1,000 via contracts with the town. Dan Sullivan was hired for $40,000.

Richard Sullivan admitted to never filing a disclosure, but said he never knew it was required. He also pointed out that no councilor has ever filed a disclosure, though all are required to do so every April. 

Since then, each councilor has filed the documents.

If Sullivan’s fellow councilors decide he violated council rules, he could be subject to censure. According to Hall, that would amount to a serious slap on the wrist. While Sullivan wouldn’t face expulsion from the council or any fines, the censure could hang over his head if he seeks re-election.

“It’s a comment collectively, on the part of the council, about a councilor’s integrity,” Hall said. 

Questions surrounding Sullivan’s effort to replace the town’s organic pest management policy with a synthetic-friendly approach have left Hall wondering what to do this year. Procedural snafus abounded during the April 18 Council meeting, including two councilors “abstaining,” despite rules requiring them to vote.

The vote itself has also been called into question. While the six councilors present on April 18 seemed to believe they had voted (or “abstained”) on Sullivan’s proposal, procedural rules suggest they may have actually voted simply to end debate.

Last week, councilors amended the April 18 minutes to show that no vote on Sullivan’s proposal ever took place. That means the council could potentially hold another vote. 

For now, Hall said the policy on the books is the one requiring the use of organics. But he said he doesn’t want to award a contract to a company for an organics-only strategy if the council is going to change its mind. 

The contracting process became even hazier this week when Hall learned that one of the three companies in the running for the town’s contract has been accused of fraudulent business practices before the Maine Board of Pesticide Control.

Purely Organics, which Hall said had been the favorite of town staff, allegedly applied synthetic products to public turf in South Portland and at Colby College, despite having agreed to an organic pest management plan. 

Purely Organics made a $30,000 bid for the town’s pest management contract.

Hall said he’d like to wait and see what the council does before awarding a contract.

“I can’t wait forever,” he said. “The grass is growing.”

Neither Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist or Council Vice Chairwoman Judith Roy responded to calls for comment. Sullivan has asked that his ethics hearing be held as soon as possible.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

Sidebar Elements

Family ties

SCARBOROUGH — For the first time since a rule requiring them to do so was enacted in 2009, town councilors have filed disclosure statements about relatives who draw income from town employment or contracts. 

Councilors are required to disclose any family member who receives more than $1,000 per year, but are not required to disclose how much they earn. Most councilors had nothing to report, but these three made disclosures:

Richard Sullivan disclosed that his brother, Dan Sullivan, is hired by the town for lawn management services. 

Jessica Holbrook disclosed that Ronald Ahlquist, her second-cousin, is a town councilor and draws more than $1,000 in his council stipend. She also disclosed that Ben Holbrook, her husband, is a foreman for Creative Office Pavilion, which periodically contracts with the town, although he is not personally involved in contracting.

Ronald Ahlquist disclosed that Judy Ahlquist, his sister-in-law, is a bus driver for the Scarborough School Department; Carl Ahlquist III, a second cousin, is a Scarborough firefighter; Eric Berry, another second cousin, is a Scarborough emergency dispatcher, and Jessica Holbrook, another second cousin, is a town councilor.

— Mario Moretto