STANDISH — Something happened at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting that retiring Town Manager Gordy Billington said he had never seen in 16 years: a recusal refusal.
The council voted to recuse Vice Chairman Greg Sirpis from debate of a lease proposal from the Standish Fish and Game Club because Sirpis is also the president of that club. The council eventually voted 4-1 against the proposal.
Sirpis initially disputed his recusal.
“I am not going to recuse myself, period,” Sirpis said, refusing to accept the vote and arguing that his dual roles do not present a conflict of interest in part because he doesn’t stand to gain financially from the proposed fish and game facility.
“Well, we have voted to recuse you,” said Chairwoman Kimberly Pomerleau, noting that Sirpis could speak from the public podium on the issue but not as a member of the council.
It wasn’t until Town Manager Billington relayed a legal opinion from Town Attorney Sally Daggett, who said the appearance of a conflict of interest is enough to justify recusal, that Sirpis conceded.
“She said it most certainly is [a conflict of interest], because it’s not just necessarily a financial interest. If it gives the appearance of a conflict, then it is a conflict,” Billington said, referring to his conversation with Daggett during a conference called earlier that day.
“I do respect counsel’s words, and I will accept that. I was not aware that this conversation had taken place this afternoon. I wish I had been notified that was the case,” Sirpis responded.
Sirpis said Wednesday it was “underhanded” and “secretive” that he was not made aware of the conversation with Daggett. “I should have been offered that information” prior to the meeting, he said.
“It was dirty politics — plain and simple,” he said about how the meeting went. “It’s clear that they wanted to silence me.”
Sirpis, who said at a September meeting that he had offered to recuse himself throughout the process, said Wednesday that he didn’t want to recuse himself Tuesday because when recused earlier he didn’t think he had an adequate opportunity to answer questions and discuss the proposal.
“I wasn’t going to let that happen again,” Sirpis said.
Pomerleau said Wednesday that not providing Sirpis with the town attorney’s advisement “was not done on purpose.”
“It really didn’t cross my mind to tell him,” she said. The legal input came at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon and she was then in meetings up until the Council meeting at 7 p.m., she said. “It just got too busy.”
She also suggested Sirpis knew recusal “was a possibility” given that he put his remarks into a written statement that was read by Councilor Mike Delcourt Tuesday night after the recusal.
Sirpis said he was prepared for it, but wasn’t expecting it because hadn’t heard anything from other councilors about recusal regarding Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilor Steven Nesbitt said after the meeting that he asked for the legal consultation regarding a potential conflict of interest.
“When I am talking to you, and when you respond, I do not know who is responding to me,” Nesbit said to Sirpis during the meeting. “Are you responding as a councilor, as a citizen of Standish, or are you responding as the president of the Fish and Game Club?”
Sirpis said Wednesday he can understand why people have concern about the appearance of his two roles, but he disagrees that it’s an issue.
“I do understand it, but I felt that I had to stand my ground,” he said Wednesday.
“It’s time time to move on,” Sipris said. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Standish Town Councilor Michael Delcourt reads a prepared statement from Council Vice President Greg Sirpis after the Council voted to recuse Sirpis Tuesday night. Sirpis is also the President of the Standish Fish and Game Club, and the Council was considering a lease proposal from the club.