Split Warrant Committee Rules Two Members Do Not Have Conflicts of Interest When Listening To Cruise Ship Petition Discussion

Petitioner accused members Eben Salvatore and Kevin DesVeaux of conflicts of interests

BAR HARBOR—After almost two hours of unplanned discussion at its August 22 meeting at the town municipal building and via Zoom, the Bar Harbor Warrant Committee in four split votes ruled that two of its members did not have a conflict of interest when listening to the presentation of the citizens’ petition about cruise ship disembarkations and could ask questions along with other committee members of the petitioner’s presenter, Charles Sidman.

Sidman accused committee members, Eben Salvatore and Kevin DesVeaux of conflicts.

The Bar Harbor Warrant Committee had scheduled presentations on four land use amendments, but prior to beginning the first discussion, the committee had to decide whether Salvatore and DesVeaux could discuss the citizens’ cruise ship petition to change the land use ordinance to 1,000 disembarkations a day. The town itself has entered a plan that limits cruise ship congestion, but not to that extent and through different mechanisms.

Some committee members wanted the conflict of interest vote to only be for this meeting where discussion was happening and have a second vote at the full meeting where the Bar Harbor Warrant Committee votes on recommending (or not) the citizen’s ordinance about cruise ship petitions. Some thought the conflict of interest had to cover both meetings with one vote. All committee members except for Julie Berberian and Meagan Kelly attended.

“The ethics ordinance is very convoluted,” Chair Seth Libby said while committee members were suggesting alternatives. Libby stressed that the ethics ordinance requires that the conflict be declared from the beginning of the process and that the vote had to be taken immediately because Sidman, a member of the public, raised the issue.

Libby said that once a member of the public calls out a committee member, the committee must stop proceedings and address the conflict of interest charge, which the committee did for close to two hours before the votes occurred.

Sidman stressed that Salvatore has a conflict because he works for Ocean Properties which tenders ships and because the company had an attorney opposing the initiative speak against the petition’s legality at a council meeting.

Sidman said that DesVeaux had a conflict because he presented some income numbers at a council meeting that showed how his business did better during a specific April lunch period when cruise ships were in harbor.

The current discussion at the warrant committee about the conflicts were “silly,” Sidman said, adding that the conflict of interest obviously exists if the business is benefitting more than others in town generally benefit.

Salvatore said that his salary wouldn’t change according to the cruise ship limitations, so he wondered how that counted as a conflict of interest.

“What is my financial gain from this?” Salvatore said. “You can’t just say, ‘You work for the company.’ You really think I’m going to get a pay cut? I don’t own the company with the boats coming in. I work for it.”

Member Caleb Cough questioned that if DesVeaux and Salvatore have conflicts of interests, wouldn’t all downtown businesses since cruise ship passengers buy goods and services throughout the town. Libby said that since DesVeaux spoke at the council meeting, there is an increased public perception of him having a potential conflict of interest.

“If someone on this board has smoked marijuana do they have a conflict of interest?” DesVeaux asked, referencing the marijuana retail store land use ordinance proposed change discussion that was scheduled for later in the meeting. “Or if they have a historic property?” The committee also eventually discussed changes to an appendix regarding historic properties. 

Member Robert Chaplin said that this meeting was just for discussion not for voting and that any recusals should happen at future meetings where votes happen. Libby said that for tonight’s meeting, a conflict of interest is premature, but the committee had no choice but to address it because Sidman brought it up.

Chaplin asked to move the discussion and have the entire discussion and recommendation in one meeting. Libby advised against it. The motion failed 8-5.

“I understand where Mr. Sidman is coming from,” Libby said because DesVeaux spoke at a meeting talking about the pecuniary aspects of his business that are related to the continuation of cruise ship visitations that creates an appearance of conflict of interest. He said that Salvatore’s position with Ocean Properties looks like a pecuniary interest, but it’s up to the committee to decide.

“I know how much you don’t want me to be part of this discussion,” Salvatore said, stressing that it was the warrant’s role is as an advisory one to voters, only making recommendations. He said that the actual decision about whether or not to pass the initiative happens with the voters in November. Since the warrant committee’s eventual vote is a recommendation on the ballot rather than a decision, he stressed that it wasn’t a conflict of interest to listen and potentially ask questions of the petitioner. Salvatore and Chaplin suggested postponing the vote about the conflict of interest to the meeting next week when the committee would deliberate on the petition’s merits.

Member Jeff Young said Libby had a “very strong interest one way or another.” Member Bethany Reece agreed. Both Young and Reece referenced a similar problem with last year’s short term rental committee vote and conflict of interests.

Libby said it was the first time that he remembers a petitioner had declared a conflict of interest in the nine years he was on the committee.

RECENT CONFLICT OF INTEREST DECISIONS

In September 2021, committee member Carol Chappell said she had a vacation home during a review of the ordinance’s proposed change. This triggered off a discussion about committee members and conflict of interest. Six committee members owned vacation rentals. Those were Libby, Cough, Young, Reece, Chappell, and former member Steven Boucher.

The remaining warrant committee members split 7-2, voting to remove all committee members who said they owned vacation rentals from the meeting room during the deliberations over the proposed change to the town ordinance about short-tern rentals. It also had voted 8-1 to pass that amendment, DesVeaux opposed.

“I’m really struggling with it. I wasn’t happy with what happened last year,” Reece said at the August meeting.

Libby said, “My job as a chair is to make sure the committee follows the law.” He said he doesn’t want to be embroiled in an ethics complaint or to have the committee maligned.

Reece said that she wanted legal advice. DesVeaux said that Libby had information that he didn’t share prior to the meeting that this would come up though Libby allegedly knew that it would and that other members did not have that information for them to prepare.

“We as a warrant committee need to have a vote without being swayed by your agenda,” Young said.

Reece asked for a future town meeting to help warrant committee members and potentially other town board and committee members to have a clearer understand of the conflict of interest issues and town’s code of ethics.

THE VOTE AGAINST CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

The town’s section on conflicts of interest in its code of ethics states:

Conflicts of Interest via Bar Harbor Town website

Libby asked for a motion. Chappell motioned to affirm that Salvatore has a financial conflict of interest in respect to the amendment. That motion failed 8-5.

The second motion, again made by Chappell, was to affirm that Salvatore had a conflict of interest based on a special interest (a direct or indirect interest economic or otherwise, having value peculiar to a member and that interest is not shared by the general public), with Sassaman seconding. That tied 6-6, which means it did not pass.

Salvatore moved that DesVeaux does not have a financial conflict of interest. Young seconded. It passed 9-3, meaning the committee found that DesVesaux did not.

Salvatore’s second motion was that DesVeaux did not have a conflict of interest based on a special interest. Young seconded. It passed 8-4, meaning the committee found no special interest.

THE PRESENTATION

During the nine-minute presentation that occurred after the conflict of interest votes, Sidman said one of the reasons for the initiative was government corruption, which he alleged just happened at the warrant committee’s vote against the conflicts of interest. He said that currently there is a monopoly granted to Ocean Properties, which is Salvatore’s employer. He said the town’s plan is too naïve and trusting of the cruise ship industry.

He said the council members were not leading, but were rolling over when some members said that the town’s working group plan is not enough of a reduction for them, but a good first step or compromise at lowering visits and congestion. 

Lawsuit threats are just a bugaboo, he said, and bullying by bigger players. He compared the citizen’s petition to the Ukraine fighting against Russia, the petitioners being the Ukraine, and then stressed that his lawyers advised him that there is no infringement on maritime or interstate commerce laws or concerns.

Reece asked about the petitions limit on disembarkations, asking if the 1,000 people a day limit was just passengers or if it also included staff members. Sidman said that yes, it included staff and any more than 1,000 triggers a $100 per passenger fine. So if 1,000 extra people beyond the original 1,000 limit disembarked, it would cost the town (and therefore the taxpayers) $100,000 if those passengers disembarked on the town pier. It would cost Ocean Properties that same amount if the passengers disembarked at its property.

Salvatore asked about the $1 million of revenue that the town currently collects from cruise ships and how that loss would impact the tax payers and tax rates.

Tendering to town properties, Sidman said, and potential increased profitability for other businesses who may currently be hurt by cruise ship congestion would make up for the potential loss of revenue. The specter of the town losing a lot of money because of the petition is a fantasy, Sidman said.

Cruise ship revenues and expenditures via Town of Bar Harbor’s website

Ezra Sassaman, referencing a document from the town manager to the warrant committee, asked why the petition makers didn’t work with the town. Sidman said there was no opportunity.

Within the petition’s rationale for the need for limits, it states that cruise ship congestion keeps emergency services (police, fire, ambulance) from doing their jobs. Salvatore asked if Sidman had any statement that emergency services were not able to do those services: police getting to potential crime sites or accidents; fire engines not getting to fires; ambulances not getting to health emergencies. Sidman said he imagined that it could be hours for him to receive services if he were to have a heart attack downtown. Salvatore said he asked if he ever talked to the fire chief or police chief for a statement about that.

“I’ve never talked to either of those individuals,” Sidman said.

Sidman said he owned a downtown business in Bar Harbor but did not specify which. His LinkedIn profile doesn’t mention that business, but says that he is a founder and managing partner of ECS Capital Partners, LLC and as a private investor and board member of an unnamed start-up and “grown” companies as well as professional pilot and flight instructor, and a consultant for Evolutionary Management Inc.

When questioned, Sidman said that he does not know if or how many additional town employees would be required to enforce the petition.

No matter if the warrant committee recommends supporting it or not, the citizens’ petition will be on the list of topics that town residents will vote about in November. The town council and town manager are simultaneously working towards a cruise ship management plan. There are links to articles about both plans below.


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WANT TO LEARN MORE? CHECK OUT THESE LINKS!

AT THE BAR HARBOR STORY, WE WANT YOU TO NOT JUST HAVE OUR TAKE ON THE NEWS, BUT YOUR OWN, WHICH IS WHY WE TRY REALLY HARD TO GIVE YOU A LOT OF LINKS TO PERUSE IF YOU HAVE TIME.

Watch the meeting.

Bar Harbor’s Ethics Code.

The Ethics Code Section on Conflicts of Interest

https://www.linkedin.com/in/charles-sidman-0b778620/

For an earlier article with more information about the citizens’ initiative to decrease cruise ship disembarkations, click here.

Bar Harbor Story

Town’s Cruise Ship Management Plan Floats Forward Past Split Council

BAR HARBOR—A split council supported the town’s working group’s cruise management plan at the Bar Harbor Town Council’s August 16 meeting, voting 5-2 in favor, with Councilors Val Peacock, Matthew Hochman, Erin Cough, Jeff Dobbs, and Jill Goldthwait voting in favor and Joe Minutolo and Gary Friedmann voting against. That vote was mirrored when it came to…Read more6 days ago · 1 like · Carrie Jones

Bar Harbor Story

Bar Harbor Town Council Waits For Legal Consult Before Deciding to Put the Citizens Initiative on November Warrant

BAR HARBOR – There has been a pause in the process of potentially putting a citizen petition that would reduce the daily amount of cruise ship passengers entering Bar Harbor on the town’s November 8 warrant. Town Councilors could have put the petition on the warrant at its July 19 meeting, but chose to delay that decision until they consulted with attorn…Read morea month ago · 3 likes · 2 comments · Carrie Jones

The Cruise Management Plan Question and Answer document

To read the comments sent to the town manager (and the rest of the council packet), click here. Public comment specifically about the cruise ships are from 47-94.

Our story about last week’s Cruise Ship Meeting is here.

For more information about the Cruise Ship Committee.

For a history of the cruise ship fees uses in town for the past eight years.

For information about the town’s cruise ship management presentation.

For an earlier article with more information about the citizens’ initiative to decrease cruise ship disembarkations.

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