Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tell it to the Judge

State Ethics Commission, Enforcement Division
One Ashburton Place
Room 619
Boston MA 02108
September 20, 2007

Dear Sir or Madam,

I wish to file a formal complaint and request a ruling by your office on a conflict of interest regarding Amherst Selectman Robert B. Kusner concerning a crucial vote taken Monday, September 17’th.

That night the Amherst Select board (acting in their role of Sewer Commissioners) voted 3-2 to waive effluent water charges for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for an annual savings of $37,000. Since this is a five-year agreement, Amherst taxpayers forfeit $200,000.

Robert Kusner is a full-time professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (thus a “special state employee”); therefore his decisive vote significantly benefited his employer.

On two previous occasions (7/25/05 and 3/1/06) where the “appearance of potential conflict of interest” may have existed, Selectman Kusner filed a disclosure form with the Amherst Town Clerk as required by M.G.L. c. 268A outlining the mitigating facts to explain why no such conflict exists.

In this particular case, however (which I believe goes well beyond merely the “appearance of potential conflict of interest”), Mr. Kusner did not file any such form with the Town Clerk. Since Professor Kusner’s vote was the tiebreaker-deciding vote, I would ask the Commission to void the action taken by the Amherst Select board.

Sincerely Yours,

Larry Kelley, 460 West St, Amherst, Ma. 01002
Amherst Town Meeting member, Amherst Redevelopment Authority,
CC: Amherst Town Clerk, Amherst Select Board/Town Manager


Gavin Andresen said...

So... you're saying somehow Rob's gonna personally profit from his vote on the sewer water?

Or are you saying that he's a UMass toadie that will do whatever is best for the University, at the expense of the Town?

Help me out, I'm REALLY having a hard time seeing anything besides the merest wisp of a hint of conflict of interest here.

So let's see... $200,000 over five years, divvied up into the pockets of the 1,000 or so faculty at UMass (assuming it ALL went into faculty pockets).

$200 over five years. Forty bucks a year (being generous) into Rob's pocket.

I wonder how much it costs the State Ethics Commission to process a complaint...

LarryK4 said...

What I’m clearly saying is Rob should not have participated in that vote (neither should have Alisa). That’s all I’m saying.

You yourself state there is the “merest wisp of a hint of conflict of interest here.” As such, Mr. Kusner should have filed a written statement with the Town Clerk. The Town Clerk just called and said the town attorney has requested all Mr. Kusner’s disclosure forms and it turns out they found a third one (I had previously requested them all and was told there were only two).

Back on 4/19/05 having to do with him donating money to the Kestrel Trust; and since our Conservation Department loves to partner with them in taking land off the tax rolls and the Select board was probably voting on the Town Meeting warrant article he took the time to fill out the form. So that makes three times in his less-than-three year tenure as Select board member.

But on this more direct conflict he doesn’t file the form?

The State Ethics Commission exists with a large amount of fixed overhead. One extra investigation costs the taxpayers nothing. And in fact, they have a staff member (“Investigator of the day”) available Mon thru Fri during business hours to answer any questions from the general public or public officials.

So Mr. Kusner could have picked up the phone for a free consultation (as he did when he filed his 3/1/2006 disclosure.)

chris said...

I would like to give my employer a $37,000 boost. At raise time I would then ask for %5 instead of the usual %2. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

LarryK4 said...

So I just returned from the Town Clerks office after picking up a copy of that THIRD disclosure form filed by Selectman Kusner (4/19/05). It concerned the purchase of the North Amherst Community Farm (with town money) and the fact that Mr, Kusner and family had donated $5,000 to the Kestrel Trust (also partners in the deal) but earmarked that donation for this particular project.

Interestingly at that time he was concerned with being “squeaky clean.” Then Town Attorney Alan Seewald wrote, “I am here to help you work through legal issues, which generally will go through the town manager. The one glaring exception is conflict issues, which generally come to me directly.”

He goes on to explain: “With regard to the appearance issue, the statute cleanses a town official by simple public disclosure. I can provide a form for you to file with the Town Clerk to make a record of your disclosure. You should also disclose publicly at the Open Meeting before participating. Rule #1 is ‘If you have any question whatsoever, get advice before proceeding.’”

The town attorney clearly advised Mr. Kusner that you need to not only make mention at the public meeting of your potential conflict BUT you also need to file a form with the Town Clerk. No such form was filed.