Ordinance idea rejected by board

BROOKLINE – After a little conflict in opinion, selectmen agreed they’d support a committee to study the town’s conflict-of-interest policy.

However, board members Monday night unanimously opposed a petitioned warrant article that calls for a conflict-of-interest ordinance.

Selectmen held a public hearing to discuss the need for a conflict-of-interest policy that was prompted by concerns about the town’s road agent. Board members discussed a draft conflict-of-interest policy from Amherst, which resident Jim Murphy used as a reference while crafting a proposal to address similar issues.

Last month, Murphy – who is running against Selectman Bob Parodi for a one-year seat on the board – brought forward a petition warrant article in hopes of defining what constitutes a conflict of interest in town government, and how to deal with those problems. Murphy’s proposal contains an ordinance that would be legally binding if approved at Town Meeting.

A resident asked about the difference between an ordinance and a policy.

“(Once approved, an ordinance) cannot be changed until the following year, absent a Special Town Meeting,” Parodi said. “A policy can be changed at any time.”

Petitioners Judy Cook and Tom Flaherty said one motivating factor behind the petition is the fact that most town road work is performed by C.L. Farwell, the company owned by Road Agent Jerry Farwell. Murphy said there are inadequate checks and balances to protect the town’s best interests.

If Town Meeting voters approve the article, it could prevent Farwell from serving as road agent.

Parodi also presented his own conflict-of-interest policy Monday night, written specifically to address the road agent’s position.

Parodi said his policy essentially spells out what selectmen have been doing since 2001 – requesting a fee schedule, soliciting bids for special projects, and sometimes hiring a third-party consultant to oversee projects awarded to the road agent.

However, both Flaherty and Cook said the road agent’s position isn’t the only issue that needs to be addressed.

“I had no indication that this was something you (Cook) were dissatisfied with. This looks like a personal vendetta against me.” said Selectman Clarence Farwell, a former road agent who is running against Cook for a two-year seat on the board and is Jerry Farwell’s father.

Cook, a former selectman, said the way town road business is conducted, “could never happen in any other realm because there is no oversight.”

Parodi said selectmen provide the oversight themselves by requesting a schedule of fees each year.

“We have a schedule, but we don’t have a contract,” Cook said. “The contract would be renewable annually and would have a (budget and a schedule of projects for the year.)”

Parodi asked Jerry Farwell, who is up for re-election, if he would agree to a written contract, and Farwell said yes.

Cook asked the selectmen if they would propose a conflict of interest study committee at Town Meeting. Selectmen’s Chairwoman Linda Saari, Parodi and Clarence Farwell said they would support it.

“I would especially favor that over binding us into an ordinance,” Saari said.

Emily Cavalier can be reached at 594-5833 or cavaliere@telegraph-nh.com.