Petitioned article aims to block kin

BROOKLINE – If a petitioned warrant article submitted to selectmen Monday night passes in March, then 2004 will be last time that Selectman Clarence Farwell and his son, road agent Gerry Farwell, could be elected to serve in their current positions at the same time.

Resident Jim Murphy brought forward a petition – with the required 25 residents’ signatures – that aims to enact a town ordinance to ensure that “elected officials conduct town business with ethical conduct and without conflict of interests,” the ordinance said.

“A swell of concern that members of the town government have put themselves in questionable positions, either through a disability to see it or a lack of desire to do anything about it,” led to the petition, said Murphy, who compiled the petition with the help of other residents and some state case laws.

Murphy, a resident for eight years, said conflicts of interest were a common topic in dinner conversation among residents he knew. In a prepared statement, he said, “There’s nothing that erodes that trust faster than having a situation where the citizens have reason to doubt that town officials might not be acting solely on what is based on what is best for the town.”

While the petition is based on similar ordinances across the state, Murphy said, it is unique in that it goes above and beyond what state law requires. State law only prevents individuals from holding “incompatible offices” or offices that have a check-and-balance function over one another. For example, one person cannot be both inspector of elections and supervisor of the (registered voter) checklist.

In addition, this ordinance would also prevent family members (as defined within the ordinance) from holding incompatible offices. If the ordinance passed, a husband could not serve as the town tax collector if his wife was serving as a member of the Board of Assessors at the same time, Murphy said. “I don’t think that we would agree that those (people) serve an appropriate checks and balances function to prevent them from embezzling funds.”

While the provision would not prevent the Farwells from being re-elected in 2004 – they would be grandfathered under the ordinance – it would prevent them from holding incompatible offices in the future.

Though the proposed ordinance is born of past situations, Murphy said, its focus is to set up guidelines for the future.

Selectmen’s Chairwoman Linda Saari said she didn’t see the need to adopt binding procedures concerning conflicts of interests because the boards were already complying with regulations.

Selectman Robert Parodi asked Murphy, “Are you saying that without this ordinance, people can’t recognize a conflict of interest?”

Murphy answered, “Yes.”

When asked for examples, Murphy said he would rather not give specifics, because the aim of bringing the petition forward was not to agitate board members or single out anyone in the past. However, the only town officials the ordinance would currently affect are the Farwells.

Murphy stressed several times in his presentation that he wasn’t making any accusations of wrongdoing.

Inside the meeting, Gerry Farwell said, “I’m not comfortable with the accusations being made. If (they’re) not said, they’re at least implied.”

Outside the meeting, Farwell had a private discussion with Murphy. After that, he said he felt the ordinance was singling out him and his father.

Farwell said he was surprised when he heard about the proposed ordinance. “I guess that’s a little naïve on my part,” he said. “If anything, I shortchange myself because I am under a microscope.” Farwell runs C.L. Farwell, the company that does the bulk of the town’s roadwork.

The petition article will go before voters at Town Meeting on March 9.

Emily Cavalier can be reached at 594-5833 or