CAPE ELIZABETH — Five months after the last election, questions are still being raised about how to address a potential conflict of interest between the Town Council and School Board, which Town Manager Matt Sturgis called “uncharted territory.”

The School Board and Town Council met April 12 to discuss implications of the school’s $25.6 million budget.

But for nearly a half hour prior to the budget discussion, council Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan led discussion about the potential conflict of interest between Councilor Chris Straw and his wife, Hope, who is a member of the School Board.

While town attorney Thomas Leahy said in December that there is nothing in the Town Charter that would disqualify the Straws from serving simultaneously on the council and School Board, he said voting on the school budget was less clear-cut.

Leahy advised Chris Straw to disclose his position when the budget is presented, leaving it up to the council to decide if there is an appearance of a conflict or bias and if a recusal is necessary.

Sullivan last week said she sees a “significant bias” that warrants further discussion, while Councilor Penelope Jordan said she was confident in Straw’s ability to participate.

Councilor Caitlin Jordan was absent and Councilor Sara Lennon arrived near the end of the discussion.

Because a motion would take four votes to pass and would likely be the status quo for all other budget discussions, the issue was tabled.

The potential conflict was first raised in the months leading up to the last election, when Straw was asked by a reporter in September why voters should not be concerned about electing a married couple to the two panels.

He first derided the question as “sexist,” saying he and his wife are independent people with their own opinions on issues, but later apologized and said he was being “facetious” at the time.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be contacted at 781-3661, ext. 183 or at:

[email protected]; Twitter: @JocelynVanSaun.

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