SOUTH PORTLAND – What could have been a perfunctory round of appointments at the July 16 meeting of the South Portland City Council turned instead into a 20-minute tete-a-tete on Robert’s Rules of Order.

On the agenda were two appointments: Gerard Jalbert as the council’s representative to the Long Creek Watershed Management District board of directors, and former Councilor James Hughes to represent the South Portland Land Trust on that board in the seat reserved for a nonprofit organization.

The meeting turned into a kerfuffle when Jalbert declined to vote for himself, on the belief that it would be a conflict of interest to vote for his own appointment. That prompted a clearly exasperated Rosemarie De Angelis to school her council-mates on Robert’s Rules of Order.

“Somebody doesn’t get to just recuse from voting,” she said. “We’ve been through this a number of times. Let’s do it correctly.”

In May, De Angelis publicly faulted Planning Board Chairman Rob Schreiber for refusing to vote on farmers market applications as a form of protest to the fact that she and other councilors had testified before his panel. Meanwhile, she and Jalbert had been at loggerheads over market issues behind the scenes since March.

De Angelis also has expressed frustration with how the council does business several times in recent months as it’s tried to navigate, mostly in executive session, two lawsuits filed against the city.

A June 25 debate on issues spawned during that time resulted in demands for a series of as-yet unscheduled workshops. Eventual agenda items are supposed to include the use of executive sessions and councilor interaction with city boards and committees, among other items.

Following the appointment argument, Councilor Tom Blake asked that a workshop session also be scheduled on proper voting procedures.

The appointments went forward after De Angelis convinced the council that it first needed to vote on whether Jalbert harbored a conflict-of-interest.

“I don’t see a conflict any more than when you go into the polls when you’re running for election,” she said. “I assume you vote for yourself. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t”

After debating the issue, the council voted 3-3 against allowing him to sit out the vote.

Jalbert was allowed to refrain from voting on that measure, which Councilors Tom Coward and Maxine Beecher supported along with Mayor Patti Smith. The tie vote forced Jalbert to vote on his appointment, which was made unanimously, but only after the board realized it had to first back up and vote to reconsider the first vote it took on which Jalbet had declined to vote.

Councilor Tom Coward suggested that entire parade of parliamentary procedure was prompted mostly by Jalbert’s “false modesty.” However, Jalbert noted that the Watershed District board expects to sign contracts for $10 million-$15 million in work in the next decade.

“I have several business interests throughout the city,” said Jalbert. “The possibility exists that I may have to look at a contract from which I would have to recuse myself. So, I was just being very cautious.”

“In that instance, at that time, that is an appropriate time to ask to be recused,” said De Angelis. “But again, what the rules say is that you first state that you have the appearance of an impropriety, then that you think you can, or cannot, be objective in your vote. Then it goes to the body to decide.”

“But I don’t see what the conflict is here,” said De Angelis. “I think voting is a really important role of a councilor and we should not recuse somebody arbitrarily, which is what this feels like. There may be a conflict in the future, but there is no conflict in this vote.”

In unanimously appointing Jalbert, council members said they did not mind sending him to the Watershed board even knowing that, from time-to-time, he may have to sit out certain contract votes.

“I trust implicitly that Councilor Jalbert will to the right thing when he is on the management district,” said Smith, adding with a laugh, “I voted for myself as mayor.”


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