2 Presque Isle Industrial Council members resign over bylaw controversy

4 weeks ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Two members of the city’s Industrial Council have resigned in protest over an oversight committee’s vote against amending the council’s bylaws to prevent conflicts of interest.

Industrial Council Vice President Derik Smith and Director at-large Frank Bemis submitted their letters of resignation from the 9-member council on Wednesday. The Industrial Council oversees the city’s assets in the Skyway Industrial Park. The makeup of the Industrial Council by rule includes two city councilors whose appointments are approved by the full city council.

The controversy centers around the recent appointment and removal of two city councilors from the Industrial council. Industrial council bylaws state that no member should own property within the industrial park. City councilor Gary Nelson owns a business within the park and fellow councilor Craig Green has investments in companies that own property in the park.

The City Council initially approved the appointments of Nelson and Green because it did not believe the Industrial Council bylaws pertained to city councilors, only to at-large directors. Objections from Industrial Council members supported by members of the city council resulted in a vote to rescind the appointments.

At Tuesday night’s Membership of the Industrial Council Corporation meeting, which meets annually and oversees the council, members of the Industrial Council board of directors submitted amended bylaws including the provision against any member owning property in the industrial park, including city councilors. The membership group voted 5-3 against adopting the amended bylaws.

The membership group then voted 5-3 to approve amended bylaw language pertaining to conflicts of interest that would apply to Industrial Council directors at-large and not the two members of the City Council and two members of the Chamber of Commerce. The language also said restrictions do not apply to ownership of mutual funds, retirement funds, or the holdings of publicly traded stock.

“The perception of a conflict of interest to me is what we are trying to avoid,” Smith said at the membership meeting.

Presque Isle Industrial Council Vice President Derik Smith (left) and director at large Frank Bemis resigned their positions after a contentious meeting on Feb. 6. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

Smith declined to comment further but in a copy of his letter of resignation cites “the blatant conflict of interest of one of the potential board of directors [Nelson] and potential for acrimonious conduct going forward.”

In Bemis’ letter of resignation, he “profoundly disagrees with the ethical provisions that the City Council believes are necessary for the Industrial Council Directors at-large should not also apply to Directors who are City Councilors, or the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce.”

Members of the corporation group voting in favor were city councilors Kevin Freeman, Jeff Willette, Gary Nelson, and Craig Green, and Interim City Manager Lewis Cousins. City councilors Hank King and James Carroll voted against the bylaw changes along with Industrial Council Executive Director Tom Powers. City Councilor Doug Cyr was not present for a vote.

Prior to the votes, the membership group met with seven members of the Industrial Council board at City Hall on Tuesday, to review proposed changes to the Industrial Council bylaws addressing conflicts of interest.

The Industrial Council directors believe that owners and tenants in the Skyway Industrial Park would have a conflict of interest when it comes to Industrial Council decisions.

“I think we have to assume that all directors are equal in all instances [and] that would be my catch on this,” Powers said.

Bemis argued there would be too many conflicts of interest and Nelson would have to constantly evaluate his conflict of interest because he owns the Aroostook Trusses business in the Industrial Park.

City Council chairperson Freeman said the benefits of having Nelson on the Industrial Council outweigh the concerns.

“The Presque Isle City Council currently has an elected individual, who owns and operates business on the [Industrial] Park,” said Freeman. “This provides a very unique opportunity to ask this councilor to also be a board member of the Industrial Council.”

A business owner would inject diversity into the Industrial Council and should be embraced, according to Freeman.

Green said the ultimate say on Industrial Council actions belongs to the membership group.

“Nothing about this, whether this bylaw is there or not there, is going to change how we’re empowered to make the final decision on what your [Industrial Council] board does,” said Green, addressing Industrial council members.

Bemis said Nelson’s properties in the Industrial Park are on the Industrial Council agenda for this Thursday, Feb. 8.