Westbrook resident Christine Latini proposes her ethics changes to the City Council March 15 meeting. Screenshot / Zoom

The City Council will consider tightening ordinances about elected officials’ ethics upon the request of  a resident who has taken issue with a Planning Board member’s previously unpaid property taxes.

Resident Christine Latini has brought up the issue to the City Council before, but she made a specific call, or “referral,” to strengthen the ordinances last week, a move that Council President Gary Rairdon supported.

Planning Board Chairperson Rene Daniel recently settled his bill of $200,000 in unpaid back taxes and interest through the city’s tax amnesty program.

“My opinion is that somebody who is not paying their property taxes but representing the taxpayer and being appointed to have general powers and duties over the property taxpayer seems quite unethical to me,” Latini told the American Journal.

Details of changes to the ethics ordinance have not been worked out, but Latini said it needs to be easier to remove a violator from office. Current ethics ordinances related to elected officials cover topics such as nepotism, but leave uncovered issues such as not paying property taxes.


Latini, who has previously been at odds with the Planning Board and Daniel over decisions related to the comprehensive plan and was an outspoken critic of last year’s school budget deficit, said the length of time Daniel’s taxes went unpaid – upwards of 20 years – is the most concerning. That was an intentional withholding, she said, and an ethical violation for someone making land decisions.


The ethics isn’t about behavior in this sense. My referral is to make the framework of our ethics chapter more inclusive so the next generation of legislators in the city, when they have someone who is habitually violating something, it can help remove them,” Latini said.

Daniel said his property tax bill, which he inherited, went unpaid because of extenuating circumstances, not because he was scoffing at the rules. He always intended on paying what he owed, he said.

“It is true that I have been attempting to pay my taxes. However, they were so large that I couldn’t keep up with them,” Daniel told the American Journal.

Of the more than $200,000 owed, $79,000 was for taxes, with the interest “nearly triple that,” he said.

Daniel has had conversations with the city for years about his bill and how to tackle it, at times working to pay just the interest, he said. Ultimately, he made use of the city’s tax amnesty program passed last year that forgives the interest if the taxes get paid. He paid his debt to the city Feb. 24.

“Fortunately I’d been putting money aside to get this situation corrected,” Daniel said. “Amnesty was offered, it corrected the situation that I was in frustration with,” Daniel said.


Daniel said the unpaid taxes were inherited, not left unpaid by him, and without the amnesty program he “would never have caught up.”

“When I inherited the home and saw how much taxes were owed, the taxes themselves didn’t bother me, it was the interest, which was more than what the taxes were,” Daniel said.

Mayor Mike Foley said these situations were the type for which the amnesty program was designed. The city for years failed to make any progress collecting back taxes that were due and the debt grew.

In addition to Daniel, three other property owners applied for the amnesty program, said Tax Collector Dena Lebeda. Of the 87 properties remaining in city foreclosure, 34 are residential, four are commercial and 49 are land parcels.

Rairdon said the council will be discussing Latini’s proposal at a future meeting.

“I feel that with Ms. Latini bringing this to our attention, it’s been something that has been the elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about, as far as when they talk about ethics. You should be in somewhat good standings with the city be on boards and things like that,” Rairdon told the American Journal.

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