KENNEBUNK – Select Board Chair Blake Baldwin, accused by a member of the public of having breached the board’s code of ethics, vowed to ”try and do better.”

Resident John Costin and Baldwin clashed at the Nov. 9 meeting. Costin filed a complaint with the board, alleging Baldwin had breached a portion of the board’s ethics code that states, “We agree to refrain from making disparaging remarks about the public or other members of the board.”

Baldwin recused himself from the discussion that ensued when the complaint was heard Nov. 23, speaking once most of the conversation had ceased.

Kennebunk Select Board Chair Blake Baldwin Tammy Wells Photo

“I do believe you can teach an old dog new tricks, so maybe I can learn to behave better in these meetings,” said Baldwin, in part. ” Not to reiterate this, (Costin) laid out a laundry list of things I said, and I have as many counter arguments about the things he said.”

Baldwin said he took great pride in leading the meetings and encouraging engagement. He said he is friendly and encourages people to talk.

“I’ve tried and clearly I need to try harder,” said Baldwin. “I’m not going to apologize for the things I said. My words speak for themselves. … whether I violated the code of ethics that I actually wrote, I’m not sure.”

Kennebunk resident John Costin Courtesy Photo

Baldwin said he learned from Rachel Phipps, who is married to Costin, that the impact of what is said and how people receive the information is important as what is said.

“I need to do a better job of that and so I will in the future; that is my promise,” said Baldwin. He said he has enlisted Shiloh Schulte, the vice chair, to help keep him on track.

Costin began presenting his complaint by reviewing what Baldwin had said.

Costin said Baldwin’s remarks to him that included an assertion that Costin was “trying to tear the town down,” among others, were hurtful, and of a personal nature, not of Costin’s ideas. He said the issue goes back several months but noted the code of ethics did not contain the provision about disparaging others until October.

After he spoke for more than five minutes, Costin was told by Schulte his time was up after none of the board members initially agreed to extend his time. They later agreed to afford him another 10 minutes.

Schulte said he wanted the discussion to focus on the bigger picture and the board’s responsibilities, the code of conduct and the like, rather than on a particular individual.

Board member Bill Ward said he understood Schulte’s concerns but noted there are times when a speaker’s delivery can seem abusive.

“You can bring your ideas forward in a professional manner. … it’s your tone and a method of delivery that makes it a lot different,” said Ward. He suggested conflict resolution training might be useful.

Board member Lisa Pratt said the board could adopt a team approach, where a member could signal another to intervene if conversations became difficult.

Resident Dan Sayre said he heard the exchange between the two individuals and described it as upsetting. He said he is a friend of both men and said such exchanges have a “chilling effect.” He suggested the board publish a public comment standard.

Costin said when Baldwin told him he is “trying to tear down the town,” it is humiliating.

“I love this town, too. I love this town as much as all of you, and you know what, I think Mr. Baldwin loves this town,” said Costin “But I think that you all signed the code of ethics, you all have a responsibility to follow it. Mr. Baldwin violated it and he violated it egregiously. … and if you don’t take a step to say that is not going to be tolerated on your board, then the code of ethics is not worth the paper it is written on.”

Sayre noted the public is asking the board to address the violation of the code of ethics.

Board member Kortney Nedeau said Baldwin responded with reaction and emotion, rather than taking a step back. She agreed with Pratt that intervention by a chair or vice chair if the conversation deteriorates could be helpful.

Schulte said there was some disagreement evident about the best path forward but noted there was universal agreement as a board to show restraint, at a minimum. He said his desired outcome from the discussion is “to see this as an important and serious issue, strive to do better and move forward as a board and be more watchful of ourselves and each other.”

The ethics code does not address penalties for violations.

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