Yarmouth petition seeks council ethics code, recall provision

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YARMOUTH — A petition calling on the Town Council to endorse a code of conduct and ethics, and to create process for voters to recall elected officials, has created a divide among residents.

Deborah Delp wrote the petition after an Oct. 12 Operations Committee meeting where Councilor David Craig said the public has never expressed interest in having the council adopt a code of ethics.

Delp said many residents she has spoken with were shocked to learn that the council hadn’t already implemented a code.

The petition calls for a code to be approved by the council with specifics on respect, honesty, transparency, non-partisan behavior, following process, and the ability to hold councilors accountable for breaking the code.

Delp, who is the president of Yankee Marina and Boatyard, said she thinks about ethics every day.

“How we treat each other in life matters more than most other things,” she said Nov. 10.

Delp wrote a “background letter,” which accompanied the petition, citing a particularly contentious council meeting on Aug. 17 where the council debated a resolution drafted by Councilors April Humphrey, Timothy Shannon and David Craig in reaction to racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In an interview on Nov. 13, Delp said the reference to August’s meeting related to the process by which the resolution was brought about, rather than its content, which she admitted she should have noted in the letter.

Delp said what bothered her and others about the process of the resolution was that Craig, Humphrey and Shannon drafted the petition “behind the backs of the other (councilors) 48 hours before the meeting.”

The petition also asks that a recall provision be added to the Town Charter. The procedure would allows citizens to remove and replace a public official before the end of a term of office.

Craig said in a Nov. 13 email that Delp is driving a partisan effort to discredit and remove a councilor by proposing such a process.

He added that he is not opposed to adding a code of conduct and ethics to council rules, but feels the title of the petition – “Save our Council … Save our Town!” – is inflammatory and divisive.

The petition and letter have ignited debate among members of the Yarmouth Community Network and Radio Yarmouth Facebook pages.

Mary Webber asked fellow residents to consider signing the petition.

“I am really glad that one petition is asking that the Town Council approve a Code of Ethics,” she wrote. “While I am deeply saddened that many of us even feel that this is necessary, after viewing (and) attending (council) meetings over the past months, I know it is.”

Craig Martin supports the petition and said he stood at the polls on Election Day, gathering signatures.

In a background document written by Martin, he noted surrounding towns have changed their charters and adopted codes of ethics, including Boothbay Harbor, Falmouth and Freeport.

“This is being supported by many different parties of people here in Yarmouth who are looking to bring back some civility, decorum and professionalism to our meetings,” Martin said in a Nov. 13 email.

But others said the letter and petition are “partisan” and “divisive.”

Resident Amanda Mitchell said in a post that she is worried the petition is going after specific councilors.

Resident Jeff Kew asked residents not to sign the petition.

“A code of ethics would be great, but this petition, if you read it carefully and connect the dots, seems to be a partisan hit job by right-leaning folks in town against a town councilor they happen to disagree with,” Kew said on the Yarmouth Community Network page.

In an interview Nov. 14, Humphrey said what happened in August was “more than anything due to some (councilors) having little experience with how the town operates,” noting that now, having been on the council for about five months, she would have done some things differently.

Delp did not want to identify others who helped her draft the petition, but said the group of residents included members of all political parties.

“(The petition) has nothing to do with what (the council is) discussing,” Delp said. “It’s all about how they’re treating each other.”

She added that calling for a code of ethics and right to recall is not a “witch hunt” and is not aimed at specific councilors.

“As high as my standards are for ethics in my business, I personally believe elected officials should be holding themselves to an even higher standard,” Delp said.

Chairwoman Pat Thompson said in a Nov. 13 email that the council could not speculate about a petition that has not yet been presented, but added that the council is currently engaged in a review of its rules, which were adopted in 1963.

“The possible incorporation of a code of ethics provision is a part of that review, similar to language contained in council rules of neighboring towns,” Thompson said.

Humphrey said she isn’t opposed to a code of ethics, but thinks it’s something councilors should develop, since they are the ones who must live by it.

“The wording of the petition is very vague; however, our community obviously benefits when councilors conduct themselves with mutual respect,” she said. “I know that all of us on the council have the best interests of Yarmouth at heart. … We are all ethical individuals who represent our town with integrity.”

In a Nov. 14 interview, Shannon said the council was doing fine.

“We’re getting a lot done,” he said, encouraging anyone to attend to meetings to “see for themselves.”

Craig said he expects the council to draft and vote on a code of ethics.

“I don’t question the ethics of any of the current councilors; they all hold themselves to the highest ethical standards,” he added.

Delp said she plans to present the petition to the council soon.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.