Conduct discussed in Camden
Camden Select Board members spent a portion of their meeting on Nov. 13 discussing the possibility of a select board code of conduct, citing, in part, new technology and methods of communicating with members of the public.
Select Board Chairman Martin Cates opened the discussion by noting materials provided by Town Manager Patricia Finnigan that outlined policies already in place in several southern Maine towns, including Kennebunk. Cates said the issue has been an ongoing discussion for about a year, though he speculated better examples of codes of conduct could be located and more pertinent to Camden. Selectmen Don White and John French agreed Kennebunk's rules already are, for the most part, followed by Camden's elected officials.
“We have an obligation to be leaders, to try to be factual with our information,” French said, speaking directly to Selectman Leonard Lookner. “No matter what you do, you're still a selectman.”
French noted to recent division of select board members regarding two local ordinances on the Nov. 6 ballot. He pointed out that Lookner publicly admitted to disseminating incorrect information regarding the sign ordinance for a short time.
“I just felt that you needed to keep the facts there,” French said.
Lookner said he read or interpreted the changes to the sign ordinance incorrectly; and fired back he was also given incorrect information from town employees who told him on the ballot were Articles 6 and 11 when in fact the ballot items were Article 2 and 3.
“I created a service,” Lookner argued and said people became more aware of the ballot items due to his opposition. “The fact that I presented an opinion and you presented an opinion...we did a great service to the community.”
A deep breath and 24-wait before reacting were recommended by White. He noted a post on The Camden Herald website authored by Lookner that drew comments from the public and Lookner of an "inflammatory" nature.
Cates said the focus of dicussions seemed to be more on activities outside the scope of select board meetings.
“In part, what we're talking about is outside [of meetings],” he said. “But a lot of people don't differentiate between Joe Citizen and selectman.”
Lookner said he has concerns about setting a policy that would regulate opinion.
“I don't want to be regulated by the brain police,” he said. “I don't want to have my opportunity to express myself thwarted.”
French said he's learned to support the decisions of the select board, even when he votes against items, out of respect.
“I don't go out and publicly criticize the rest of the board,” he said, adding it is a difficult line to tread.
Town Attorney Bill Kelley agreed.
“However you act reflects on you as a selectman and a citizen,” he said.
Kelley also concurred with French regarding public perception and said it may be easy to intellectually separate being a selectman and a citizen but many times, members of the public are not able to make that connection. Kelley urged select board members to be very clear when not speaking on behalf of the board.
“When you decide to act as an individual, state that clearly. Not everybody can compartmentalize,” he said.
White noted there are times, as a selectman, he feels he must “bite [his] tongue” rather than share his opinion.
Selectmen will again discuss a code of conduct after Finnigan gathers additional samples for them to consider.
Camden Herald Associate Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.