June 14, 2010: IMPORTANT UPDATE TO THIS INFORMATION HERE: http://www.concordma.com/blog/2010/06/so-much-for-earlier-congratulations.html
Since the nomination list for the West Concord Task Force
(WCTF) was first made public in late May, the 12-year-old Concord email
discussion list (which I own) has been buzzing about substantial issues of
conflict of interest, and other difficulties connected to some of the nominees.
This discussion has continued despite the withdrawal on Friday of three names.
The controversy centered around two issues: 1) whether a West Concord developer and village property owner (with a brother who also owns
large parcels of West Concord village commercial property) should serve on the West
Concord Task Force, continuing its work this year on a community-based Master
Plan and Design Guidelines for West Concord Village Center, with a special
focus on the very properties owned by these brothers, and 2) whether a
parent/child duo should serve together on the WCTF.
List members came up with many,
many different reasons why any individual with way-above-average conflicting
self-interest should not serve on this or any committee. Members discussed:
- Appearance of, versus actual,
conflicts of interest
- How both are forbidden for
acting committee members under state law, including conflicts involving their
family members and any business associations for which they are board members.
- How conflicted appointments
would destroy trust in the WCTF and the appointing Selectmen.
- That any exceptions would be in violation of conflict of
- How in Concord closely-related
family members don't serve together on the same board.
- And much more.
There were certainly dissenting
opinions in this discussion, but none that could clear the bar of our shared
reading of state law, common sense, and knowledge of Concord traditions.
But last week over the phone a
friend pointed out to me what I now think is both the most elegant and
practical reason of all. The list had touched around the edges and corners of
it, but not to its heart.
State law does not prohibit a person with an unusually
high (ie: much greater than the average resident) conflict of interest from
serving on a committee; it does prohibit that person from "taking action" once
appointed, which includes deliberations, decisions, recommendations, etc. This
applies to both actual conflicts of interest, as well as where there is an
appearance of such a conflict. So no voting, and no taking part in discussions
around conflicted topics. The
WCTF's work this year includes traffic flow plans, design guidelines, Master
Plan goals, and zoning bylaws. These each create a substantial conflict of
interest to any West Concord village developer or commercial property owner. If
you've ever been at a public meeting when someone recused themselves due to a
conflict of interest, you've noticed that the person typically leaves the room
during discussion: in both fact and practice, silenced.
Since following the law is not
optional, everyone should agree that a silenced committee member runs contrary
to the started reason for these nominations: adding an additional voice to the
process. In fact, absolutely no one's goals are served to appoint a conflicted member rendered silent.
- The WCTF wants to hear
everyone's points of view.
- Property owners and/or
developers wanting their interests represented end up with nothing.
- Anyone wanting public dialogue
to include all voices and concerns is thwarted.
- Would the Board of Selectmen,
the WCTF's appointing authority, want to appoint (and gag) someone who might
have otherwise made helpful additions to the dialogue?
- Apparently- or
actually-conflicted individuals would naturally not want to be silenced.
Exactly who gains from appointing
and then silencing a new WCTF member? Only those who don't want a full airing
of that person's views. And no one has admitted to fitting that description.
All other viewpoints should find
the withdrawal of these nominees to be positive -- though both father and daughter need not
have withdrawn to solve the relatives-don't-serve-together situation. Clearly,
eliminating the conflict problem is as much in the nominees' own best interest,
as it is in the community's. Bravo to everyone for reaching such a win-win
Legitimate avenues do exist for West Concord developers and property
owners to engage in shaping the future of that village, including WCTF public
Next: the Task Force is holding a
retreat on Saturday, June 19, from 9 am -1 pm at Harvey Wheeler to focus on the
West Concord Industrial District.
Developers and property owners have been invited to actively
participate, and the public is welcomed to observe these discussions. This type
of participation by those with substantial conflicts of interest is not only
their sole legitimate option, it's one that promises to reap valuable
information for future planning.
With 730 members and over
40,000 messages sent over 12 years, find out more about the Concord Discussion
List and link to the message archives here: www.ConcordMA.com/list.html.
State Conflict of Interest Laws from the Concord Committee Handbook (sections starting on p. 20 and p. 69): http://www.concordma.gov/Pages/ConcordMA_Bylaws/Committee%20Handbook.pdf