Monday, March 28, 2011
A conflict over conflict of interest
If someone had not taunted me in town center on Thursday morning I would not have known to call the State Ethics Division to inquire about a complaint lodged against fellow Amherst Redevelopment Authority member Aaron Hayden who is also--coincidentally enough--up for reelection tomorrow.
The State Ethics Division is like the Secret Service or FBI when it comes to investigations, as they will not "confirm or deny" anything...however if you talk long enough, you can figure out if a complaint was filed.
Interestingly enough the next day (Friday 3/25) the Daily Hampshire Gazette published a Letter To The Editor from anti-Gateway kingpin, former Washington D.C. attorney, and neighbor to the potential development, John Fox supporting the ARA candidacy of rabidly anti-Gateway activist Vince O'Connor.
And in his lede Mr. Fox warns about "...potential conflicts that confront Aaron Hayden as a member of both the five-member Select Board and the five-member ARA, which have important overlapping issues." Hmm...
Ten years ago Select Board chair Carl Seppala was also an ARA member. And so much "conflict" existed at the time over ARA joint development with the town that the episode became known as "The Garage War." No complaints, however, about "conflict of interest" over Mr. Seppala's important dual roles.
A few months back sleeper activist Mary Wentworth publicly suggested Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe had conflicts of interest because her father John Coull is Chair of the ARA, and she lives on Butterfield Terrace within the Gateway's "neighborhood planning area."
Ms. O'Keeffe herself requested a State Ethics Division legal opinion and they concluded neither is a conflict of interest, which she publicly shared during a Select Board meeting. And, not surprisingly, the state recently found no conflict of interest exists with Mr. Hayden as well.
Disclaimer: Although I'm a longtime member of the ARA, Umass graduate, Continuing Education student and 5th generation Amherst resident, I speak here, as I always do, strictly for myself (and for the hard-pressed taxpayers of this town) using that cherished American ideal known as the First Amendment.