Select Board & Town Attorney decided to dodge transparency issue
The Amherst Select Board had the opportunity to make this conflict of interest issue go away last night but they took the easy way out: avoidance.
The town attorney suggested that not openly acknowledging a potential "conflict of interest" didn't fall within the domain of a branch of government titled "Division of Open Government."
Yeah, that's a hair only a lawyer could split.
So I have now filed a complaint with the State Ethics Division. Let's hope he gives better legal advice to the Select Board this time around.
State Ethics Commission
One Ashburton Place, Room 619
Boston, MA 02108-1501
To Whom It May Concern,
I wish to file a formal complaint concerning an accidental violation of state ethics law — especially as it relates to the “appearance of a conflict of interest” — by Amherst Select Board Chair Alisa Brewer at the Select Board December 21 regular Monday night meeting (although at an unusual time).
The five member Select Board voted unanimously to allow Interim Town Manager Dave Ziomek to sign a 3.5 year Strategic Partnership Agreement with UMass/Amherst, the town’s largest employer, that could be perceived as overly generous to UMass.
Chair Alisa Brewer shows up in the online data base of UMass employees although apparently she does not work directly for UMass. Her husband Steven Brewer, however, is a full-time professor in the biology department.
At that December 21 meeting she did not publicly announce her affiliation(s) with UMass prior to leading the discussion and then voting in the affirmative on the UMass Strategic Partnership (estimated value just over half million annually).
Back in September, 2007 (on or about 9/18/2007) I filed a complaint naming Alisa Brewer and Select Board member Rob Kusner, who was a professor at UMass, when they voted on an earlier version of the Strategic Partnership Agreement that gave UMass free effluent water for their power plant, when the previous year they had paid the Amherst water/sewer fund $38,0000 for it.
At the time both Select Board members made somewhat of an announcement of their affiliations with UMass, but neither had filed a disclosure form with the Town Clerk.
Within a week of the 9/17/2007 meeting both had (retroactively) filed the disclosure form. The Ethics Commission then found no violation had taken place since the Select Board members in question had made a public announcement prior to the discussion/vote and both had, eventually, filed a disclosure form with the Town Clerk.
Alisa Brewer’s disclosure form dated 9/25/2007 is still on file with the Town Clerk, but she clearly did not make the pubic announcement at the December 21 meeting acknowledging her potential conflict of interest.
Although there were no members of the general public present at the meeting that night, all Select Board meetings are televised and live streamed by local cable access entity Amherst Media.
The town suffered a great loss back in September with the sudden death of Town Manager John Musante, so the Select Board has been far busier than normal over the past four months.
Since I do not believe the lack of transparency was deliberate, I would simply ask the Ethics Commission to remind the Amherst Select Board how important it is for public officials to routinely avoid the “appearance of a conflict” with a quick simple public pronouncement prior to a discussion/vote.
Larry J. Kelley
596 South Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01002