BENNINGTON — Two members of the Bennington Select Board came under fire on Sunday for forming a business partnership with a local engineer and an architect, which one resident alleged could represent a conflict of interest.
In June of 2014, Selectmen Thomas Jacobs and Michael Keane joined with engineer Jason Dolmetsch, president of MSK Engineering and Design, and architect Jeffrey Goldstone, principle at Goldstone Architecture, to form "Putnam Square Partners," according to records available on the Vermont secretary of state's website.
"Since PSP formed the Town has awarded MSK more than $500,000 for services either by winning bids or through contracts," wrote resident and former board candidate Joey Kulkin on Facebook. He also pointing out that MSK's contract with the town for overseeing a controversial water tank project around the same time was worth $297,355.
"Should this business partnership have been disclosed to the public?" asked Kulkin, "And is this a conflict of interest?"
Jacobs and Keane, however, insist that the partnership represented nothing of the sort, and that no money or services were exchanged between members of the group. "We were trying to get to a point where something would happen with the Greenberg-Putnam building," said Keane, "It went nowhere."
Jacobs agreed with Keane's recollection, saying that the group had expressed interest in placing a hold on the property. He said once that was in place, they would have met with potential tenants and attempted to form a coalition to purchase the building, similar to the one that is currently in the process of purchasing the properties. That group, called the Bennington Redevelopment Group, is made up of several local businesses, professionals, and institutions.
"It was basically a placeholder name," said Jacobs, who said that negotiations went nowhere, leading to the group's disbanding, "We thought, maybe we can shake the tree and see if there's any fruit."
Jacobs said that no members of the Putnam Square Partners are involved with the Bennington Redevelopment Group, and that the partners have not met since 2014.
"We needed a name to put on the letter to the property owner," he said.
The Bennington Redevelopment Group is a coalition made up of the Bank of Bennington, Southwestern Vermont Health Care, Bennington College, Southern Vermont College, Global-Z International, Brian McKenna, Anthony and Jacqueline Marro, and a group of local professionals.
MSK frequently works with towns and other public and private entities on all manner of projects. Currently, the firm is overseeing site work for a potential new garage in Shaftsbury, an energy retrofit in the Bennington School system, and a roof installation at Shaftsbury Elementary School, among many other projects.
Jacobs has served as chairman of the Select Board since 2015. Keane has served as vice-chairman since this past March.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.