About conflicts of interest

I want to take a moment regarding the article in Wednesday's Banner on the Bennington Select Board's conflict of interest discussion. This is a discussion I addressed several times during my tenure on the Select Board. I feel that many of the comments, and now the board's suggestions, confuse a conflict of interest with a common interest. The concept that a volunteer member of civic organization's board has a conflict of interest with the town is dreadfully ill conceived. The idea had been presented to me while on the Bennington Select Board; however, it is quite clear in state definitions that this is not the case. Imagine if Senator Leahy were to recuse himself from discussions in the US Senate which would affect Vermont because he was a resident and might see a benefit. The boards are made up of town residents working for the causes of the town of Bennington. The people of Bennington vote for their representatives because of the causes they represent; downtown, poverty, cultural enrichment, education and so on. These are the interests of all of Bennington. If a board member were to have to leave those boards, or recuse themselves anytime a discussion of those issues were introduced, who would represent those interests? Who would be on those boards, and why would we vote for them?

The VLCT Select Board Handbook has a clear and thorough description of conflict of interest. Instead of adapting a new one, I suggest members of the board learn it and teach it to those who question it. It clearly states that it is ok to have a political prejudice in discussions of town business. This is politics, after all.

The super Walmart opens today. We will see additional store closings downtown as shop owners decide not to compete with the new store while paying a tax premium to be in the downtown. Our downtown will need to experience a shift of focus if it is to survive. Removing the advocates of downtown from the Select Board, and the board's direct oversight of the taxpayer funds spent by the BBC is only going to add to the detriment. While I appreciate the discussion of the issue, I cannot stress how misguided and damaging this direction would be.

— Greg Van Houten



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