No rules: Camden select board votes down code of conduct

By Stephanie Grinnell | Jan 15, 2013

Camden — A split vote Jan. 15 resulted in Camden Select Board members rejecting a proposed code of conduct authored by Selectman Donald White.

Initial discussions about a code of conduct for selectmen took place in November 2012, when it was left to Town Manager Patricia Finnigan to seek additional examples of other municipal guidelines regarding conduct.

Tuesday, during a workshop, selectmen spent more than 45 minutes debating the merits of implementing an official code of conduct. While Selectman James Heard objected to the "code of conduct" term itself, others took issue with perceived censoring by the document.

Selectman Leonard Lookner wondered what the penalties might be for violation of the proposed code as well as what types of conduct outside select board meetings might be considered a violation.

"We could spend a substantial amount of time at meetings chastising each other," he said.

White and Select Board Chairman Martin Cates said the proposed code of conduct does not include penalties but instead would serve as behavioral guidelines.

"It's knowing that sometimes silence may be golden," White said.

Cates added support for a board majority vote, as well as respect for the majority's decision, also are important points included in the proposed document.

Throughout the discussion, Selectman John French Jr. repeatedly stated he already adheres to the rules and does not need to sign a piece of paper to continue to do so.

"I don't disagree but I'm not going to vote for it," he said.

Heard agreed that selectmen, for the most part, follow many of the suggested items included in the code of conduct.

"I think we know the difference between wrong and right," he said. "Does it need to be on a piece of paper? I don't think it does because we all understand."

Cates responded and said in the future, other boards may not have the same understanding as the current one.

"To me, having a standard is in good faith," he said.

White concurred and said, "To me, it's time to formalize what we say we're all about."

French and Lookner pointed out that debate of issues is generally healthy and differing points of view are part of the reason there are five different members of the select board representing Camden. French said he did not want to have the document thrown in his face when someone disagrees with him.

"I don't take it as a gag order as you are intimating," Cates said.

Lookner noted there was no code of conduct before he was elected to office. Finnigan speculated the code of conduct might be helpful for newly elected select board members or committee members; however, French countered that during his 16 years of municipal service, similar guidelines are discussed each year.

"All this says is we feel we have standards," Cates said. "It's not like stuffing a sock in your mouth and you can't talk."

After debating some of the proposed wording, White noted he — as the member who made the motion to approve the document  — would be open to wording changes. Following a short discussion about amending the motion to ask if selectmen want a code of conduct, White amended his motion to adopt a code of conduct and report back for a final vote on wording during the Feb. 5 select board meeting.

His amended motion was defeated, with Lookner, Heard and French opposed.


Comments (1)
Posted by: Joe Ryan | Jan 16, 2013 09:16

Notable Quotes from Camden Selectmen


"We could spend a substantial amount of time at meetings chastising each other"

Leonard Lookner


"I don't disagree but I'm not going to vote for it."

John French


"I think we know the difference between wrong and right."

Jim Heard


Lookner noted there was no code of conduct before he was elected to office.


Lookner, Heard and French opposed.


"If someone violates the code of conduct, what's the penalty?"

Leonard Lookner


Lookner also said the potential existed that such a code could be exploited to prejudice someone who "does not think like us."


"Leonard has his views and I have my views," he said. "We have all said things, but we all as a rule we stick to a code of conduct."


French said the media sometimes erroneously attributes statements to a board member, when in fact the individual is speaking as a general citizen, not a member of the board.

Lookner said that there were certain tenets of moral behavior ingrained in his value system and that he did not need to take an oath for them to exist.


"If people think my behavior is not ethical or moral, that is their interpretation, that is their opinion." Leonard Lookner


One of the statements, that all decisions "be based on facts presented and discussed," drew skepticism from Heard.


"You cannot come in here without an opinion on something," he said. "It's a like a judge who says 'strike that from your memory.' It's not possible." Jim Heard


"Maybe it is the name of it, the 'code'," said Lookner. "Maybe it should be called guidelines."


"Who is the judge and jury on disparaging remarks," he asked. "Act with civility? That's kind of a vague term. What is civility?"


"There may be people who run on an agenda," responded Cates.

"That's politics," said Lookner.

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