Fosters: Burns Resigns from Alfred Board of Selectmen; Makes Decision After Alleged Ethics Violations

By Ellen W. Todd Sanford,

ALFRED — An Alfred selectman has decided to step down in the wake of a finding by the State Ethics Commission that he falsified reports and fabricated receipts in his 2010 bid for election to the Maine House of Representatives.

David R. Burns told the two other members of Alfred's Board of Selectmen, via telephone, last Tuesday, Jan. 17, that he will step down from the board following the conclusion of Alfred's 2012 Town Meeting. The Town Meeting is scheduled for March 30 and 31.

Burns is accused of mixing personal funds with public campaign money, submitting false records to the elections commission and using public campaign money for personal use during his 2010 campaign for State Representative for House District 138.

Burns ran as a Maine Clean Election Act (MCEA) candidate and was elected to represent District 138, which includes the towns of Alfred, Limerick, Newfield and Shapleigh. After taking office on Jan. 1, 2011, Burns was selected for an audit through the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practice's random selection process.

Burns had been authorized to spend $9,066 in clean election funds during the 2010 election cycle. The audit determined that he spent at least $2,500 of public funds for personal purposes and that expenditures totaling at least $1,295 were falsely reported in his campaign finance reports. In responding to the auditor's request for documentation, Burns submitted cash register receipts that he later admitted were fabricated.

One of the documents submitted to the auditor was a letter allegedly from an Alfred resident stating that Burns paid him $475 for hand-painted campaign signs. When he learned of the letter several months later, the man, saying he felt "morally compelled to set the record straight," called the Ethics Commission's office and said he had not painted signs for Burns in 2010 and that he had not received any payment from Burns.

Nor had he, he told the Ethics Commission's assistant director, written or signed a letter to document such a transaction, although Rep. Burns had asked him to do so, according to a memo written by Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Ethics Commission.

In November 2011 the commission found Burns in violation of at least seven election finance laws. The commission also voted to refer the matter to the Attorney General's office for possible criminal investigation.

At their Jan. 3 meeting, Alfred Selectmen John Sylvester and Glen Dochtermann told Burns that citizens were asking questions and expressing concern to them and to town staff members, "to the point that the integrity of the Selectboard is now in question," according to the minutes of the meeting. They urged Burns to "make a clear public statement on his behalf as quickly as possible."

According to the minutes, neither Sylvester nor Dochtermann asked Burns to resign from the board.

Selectmen discussed the issue again in a closed session on Jan. 13, according to published reports.

At the Jan. 17 meeting, which he did not attend, Burns tendered his resignation during a scheduled phone call.

"It's been a great board; we work well together," said Sylvester in a phone interview this week. Sylvester — who is chairman of the board — and Burns have worked together as selectmen for seven years. Dochtermann has served for five years.

Sylvester said it is not often that a board works so well together, and can consistently put the needs of the town first.

"We're sorry that this happened," he said. "That's the sadness of this, in addition to what David's going through."

In his Jan. 18 letter of resignation, Burns said he had "truly enjoyed serving the residents of Alfred for the past seven years and will always cherish the many folks I have had the opportunity to meet ... and revel in the many achievements we have accomplished as the Board of Selectmen."

The original article can be viewed here.