Conflict of interest study presented

BROOKLINE – In the future, Brookline residents might be able to access things such as building permit requirements, town reports and other local documents online instead of going to Town Hall, thanks to the efforts of the Conflict of Interest Study Committee that was formed after Town Meeting.

Committee members met with the Board of Selectmen on Monday night to go over the committee’s report, including its proposed code of ethics and other recommendations.

The committee was formed after residents presented a petitioned warrant article to create a conflict of interest ordinance. The proposed ordinance arose out of a desire to define what constitutes a conflict of interest in town government, and how to resolve those problems.

Although voters did not approve the ordinance, they did vote to form a committee to study the issue and report back in March 2005.

The five-member committee, which was appointed by the town moderator, studied other town’s conflict of interest policies, as well as the opinions of residents and town officials.

“This committee found that things do work in Brookline, but we find that a lot of what’s in the recommended code of ethics is in (various) bylaws but they’re inconsistent,” said Bob Parodi, the selectmen’s representative to the committee.

Committee Chairwoman Christina McKillop said the code of ethics was not meant to be “one size fits all,” rather, it was meant to be adapted to the needs of each government body.

“We’re not saying the town should do these things,” committee member Jim Murphy said. “We’re saying these are the expectations, and you as the town heads know best how to put these into practice.”

The committee’s report includes recommendations on how town government could better serve its constituents. One thing the committee discovered while researching bylaws is that there is no designated place where people can access all official town documents.

Murphy said having a feature on the town Web site where residents may access that type of information would be invaluable.

Selectman Clarence Farwell, an early opponent to the conflict of interest ordinance proposed at Town Meeting, was not enthusiastic about the committee’s report.

“I live my life by what’s written down here without it being written down and put in my face,” Farwell said. “I feel it’s too restrictive.”

After the committee’s report is looked over by town lawyer Bill Drescher, the next move will be for selectmen to decide whether the report goes before voters in the form of “sense of the meeting” warrant article.

The article would essentially measure the popular opinion of the town’s voters regarding whether or not town boards, committees and officials should adopt any of the proposed recommendations.

A copy of the committee’s report is available on the town Web site at www.brookline.nh.us.