South Bristol’s officials now have a code of ethics and conduct, and may see more policies once a new municipal consultant submits his report about an alleged town office incident from early January.
At its Thursday, March 2 meeting, the South Bristol Select Board adopted the code and accepted the services of Don Gerrish from the consulting firm Eaton Peabody.
Discussion has been ongoing at select board meetings for eight weeks about an alleged incident in early January between Town Clerk Brenda Bartlett and former Tax Collector Rob Lincoln, which led to select board member Ken Lincoln’s resignation later that month. His brother, Todd Lincoln, resigned from his position as animal control officer as well.
The board members, Ken Lincoln, and Bartlett all said at Thursday’s meeting that they were pained and distressed by the situation and wanted it to end.
The board voted to accept Gerrish’s services to create a fact-finding report about the alleged incident and help the town put policies in place to make processes clear for future issues. Gerrish has over 35 years of experience in town and city management.
He also recommended board and committee meetings should be recorded, and said he could help the town start that process.
Discussion about recording meetings arose at the opening of Thursday’s meeting with comment from Ken Lincoln about the accuracy of minutes taken at the Jan. 5 select board meeting this year. He said those minutes were “incomplete,” and “very biased against” him.
“I want to understand why,” Ken Lincoln said, adding some of his statements were missing, and the minutes said he walked out of the room.
Bartlett said that the only way to have completely accurate minutes would be to record meetings.
The minutes were taken by Bartlett, and could only be approved by one of the remaining two select board members, Bruce Farrin Jr., as Chester Rice should have recused himself for a conflict of interest due to his relation to Bartlett, Ken Lincoln said.
“Bruce’s initial alone does not make this a legal document,” he said.
Ken Lincoln said personnel matters, which were included in the minutes because the complaint was discussed, should not be in the public record either.
The minutes in question were not accepted at Thursday’s meeting, but a solution was not agreed upon.
Once policies and processes are in place, Gerrish said the situation “will never happen again.” He said he would send a contract agreement to the office the following day and begin work next week.
Gerrish’s report will be presented to the select board, which will have two new members this month following the annual town meeting. Ken Lincoln asked how new select board members could make decisions about a situation they were not involved in.
“Rightly or wrongly, there’s a process,” Gerrish said. “They make the decisions.”
Gerrish said newly elected members would also determine their own conflicts of interest in evaluating the report.
He said that, if the board makes a decision on his findings, the results could be public.
After Gerrish’s presentation, the select board adopted its first code of conduct and code of ethics policy for all town employees, board members, and committee members.
Farrin said he used similar policies from neighboring towns to develop the code, which is similar to that used by the town of Bristol.
According to the preamble of the policy, “the constant and consistent themes throughout this code are ‘respect’ and ‘inclusion.’”
The policy also requires at least one hour of sensitivity training yearly for all town employees and board, committee, and commission members.
Members will sign a statement that they understand and will uphold the code. Refusal to sign is basis for losing their appointment. The policy also includes a process for responding to complaints about code of conduct violations.
“It covers just about everything,” Rice said.
In other business, the town received letters from the Maine Department of Marine Resources about two three-year experimental aquaculture lease applications in the Damariscotta River now open for public comment until April 1. Aquaculture leases are issued by the state.
Applications are by the Glidden Point Oyster Co. for a 3.99-acre site west of Prentiss Island and for a 2.78-acre site in the river by Norumbega Oyster Inc.
A public hearing is optional for both projects unless five or more requests are received during the comment period, according to both letters.
The submitted applications are available on the Department of Marine Resources website. Comment can be sent to its aquaculture division by physical mail or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A six-month moratorium on new aquaculture projects is an article on the annual town meeting warrant this year. Rice said the moratorium would give the town time to decide how to respond to the state leases. It could be extended by the select board after the initial six months.
The South Bristol Select Board will next meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 9.