For the first time in 20 years, the Bangor city council has voted to launch an ethics investigation against one if its own, for failing to disclose that his public relations firm was doing business with an agency that received money from the city.
Bangor City Councilor Cary Weston said he was simply unaware of the arrangement, but that response didn’t satisfy the majority of his colleagues.
It was, according to one city hall watcher, one of the most contentious Bangor City Council meetings in years.
“You can gavel me if you want chair, but I’m not going to allow opinion to rule the decision — that is an incorrect statement, it is an absolutely false statement,” Weston said.
Weston was on the defensive as he tried to persuade a majority of the council that his failure to acknowledge his company’s financial relationship with a city vendor several months ago owed to a lapse of memory.
The council’s code of ethics requires members to disclose pertinent facts that they know to be true in their business dealings with the city.
Back in June, Weston voted with the council to approve payment of $60,000 to the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau. A month later, the council voted to double to that funding amount, but Weston recused himself from the vote, because he said his business partner, Elizabeth Sutherland, served as chair of the bureau’s board.
But Weston said at the time that his firm was not recieving any money from from the bureau, when in fact it was being paid for maintaining the bureau’s website.
“It’s clear to me that that information should have been in my head or on paper before me before answering that question,” Weston said. “When I found out I erred in that, I brought it forward.”
But others allege that Weston’s decision to come forward and admit his failure to disclose only happened after Bangor City Council Chair Ben Sprague discovered that Sutherland Weston had been receiving money from the visitors bureau.
As Sprague consulted with other council members, Weston stepped forward to say that he was simply unaware at the time of the business arrangement in question.
“You cannot disclose facts that you don’t know to be true; you can’t present conflicts that you don’t know exist,” Weston said.
Fellow council member David Nealley, the only other Republican on the nine-member council besides Weston, said the issue should have stopped there.
“It clearly is not an ethical violation to fail to disclose something that you had told us you had no knowledge of at the time,” he said.
But some councilors, including Sprague, said that in this case, ignorance is not a defense.
“I feel that this issue is more of whether he should have known it — he should know things like this — especially entities that do business with the city,” he said. “I think he should have a full understanding of all potential conflicts of interest.”
Weston strongly protested that assessment.
“I will say that I don’t appreciate the comments that you made on what I should or shouldn’t know about the business that I have — I think that was over the line,” he said.
By the meeting’s end, Weston acknowledged that he really doesn’t know everything that’s going on at his company, but said that should not be a surprise.
“To think that I know every transaction in my own business and every company that we work with just doesn’t happen — I have three kids, I’m lucky to wear pants in the morning,” Weston said.
The issue has now been forwarded to the city’s independent ethics board, which will determine whether or not Weston committed an ethical breach of conduct.
This story was originally published Jan. 9, 2018 at 6:32 p.m. ET.