Yarmouth council adopts ethics, conduct rules

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YARMOUTH — After several months of discussion, the Town Council unanimously enacted amended council rules on Feb. 15.

Although it will likely not appear on a council agenda for formal discussion until March, residents shared both support of and concern about a potential recall provision during the meeting’s public comment period.

The council started discussing its rules after contentious debate on a resolution last August condemning racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The new rules stipulate that, when posting on official town-related social media platforms, councilors should adhere to the “highest ethical standards;” allow the post to be accessible to the public; treat comments equally, unless they are “abusive, threatening, obscene, or libelous,” and avoid disparaging remarks about fellow councilors. 

Furthermore, while posting from private accounts, councilors should make it known that opinions posted are theirs only and in no way reflect the views or feelings of the council as a whole. 

Conflicts of interest are also addressed in a policy that specifies circumstances in which a conflict of interest may arise: when a matter has a direct financial benefit or detriment to the councilor or a family member, employer or family member’s employer, or an outside organization in which the councilor holds a leadership position. 

In order to avoid a potential appearance of a conflict of interest, the rules assert that councilors should disclose the relevant information or abstain from a discussion or vote. 

The rules go on to specify how citizens should be appointed to various committees, subcommittees, and task forces under the council and how items should be added to workshop agendas before being moved to a voting meeting. 

A recall provision – which would be part of the Town Charter, rather than council rules, and would have to be ratified by a voter referendum – was introduced during a workshop on Feb. 1.

A petition calling on councilors to endorse a code of conduct and ethics, and to create a process for voters to recall elected officials, circulated last fall. However, it did not come before the council until an Operations Committee meeting in January. 

Fewer than 10 people attended Thursday’s meeting, but most seemed to have a feeling of whether they’d support a recall provision – two spoke in favor and three against. 

Pat Ferrell, of Collins Road, said there would be “no harm” in adding the provision to the Town Charter, similar to those that have been adopted in Freeport, Falmouth, and Cumberland. 

“If we have a reason for recalling someone, we’re taking care of our town,” Ferrell said. “For me this is a plus … it can only do good.”

On the other hand, Richard Stower, of Portland Street, said he opposed the provision as it’s being considered.

“Disagreements among elected officials occur all the time,” Stower said. “… For me the best way to remove public officials is by defeating them on Election Day.” 

In compliance with the new council rules that require an agenda item to be introduced at a workshop and then discussed further at a following workshop before being put to a vote, a recall provision could be discussed during an Operations Committee Meeting on Feb. 22 and in a workshop on March 1.

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

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