Shaftsbury town garage debate rages
SHAFTSBURY -- Selectman Ken Harrington responded to questions and concerns from several members of the public during the Select Board's meeting on Monday, including whether the fact that he owns property adjacent to the proposed town garage site was a conflict of interest.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Shaftsbury resident Jared Della Rocca asked Harrington several questions regarding his role in the recent voting down of the proposed town garage bond. "If all the [garage] committee members had been pulling in the same direction, I think it would have passed," Della Rocca said.
Della Rocca also asked what percentage of local taxes goes towards the school system, versus the town. Town treasurer Bill Fisk was in attendance at the meeting, and was able to confirm that 78 percent of local taxes go to the school system, which includes Mount Anthony Union Middle School and Mount Anthony Union Middle School as well as Shaftsbury Elementary School. Prior to the vote, Harrington spoke out against the proposed garage because of concerns about a rising school budget.
A second resident brought up that Harrington and his brother own property next to the town's Transfer Station, which is where the new town garage, had the vote passed, would have been built. Tom Huncharek, of the Shaftsbury Developmental Review Board, expressed concern that Harrington had not notified the public about this potential conflict of interest.
Huncharek said it is common practice on the DRB for members to announce any potential conflicts of interest with items on the agenda at the start of each meeting, and that the same policies are in place for the Select Board. At the beginning of every Select Board meeting, the chairperson asks the other board members if they have any conflicts of interest with any items on that meeting's agenda.
Harrington strongly objected to the implication that owning property near the proposed site was his reasoning for voting against the bond, and encouraging others to do the same. "I've never opposed that site up there," said Harrington. "It makes no sense to me to spend $110,000 on land when you already own land," he said, referring to a proposal from resident Ed Corey to purchase land adjacent to the current town garage.
Selectman Tim Scoggins, whose ideologies often clashed with Harrington's in regard to the garage vote, spoke in his defense, "I've never heard Ken express reservations about the site. His reservations were mostly about the cost."
Huncharek, who had been one of three candidates for the Select Board seat vacated by former chairman Craig Bruder in October, a seat that was eventually filled by Scoggins, said that he was not suggesting that Harrington's decision had been influenced by his owning property near the site, simply that it could have been perceived by the public as a conflict of interest, and thus should have been publicly announced at the start of the discussion on the new garage.
Harrington disagreed, protesting that describing his ownership of the land as a potential conflict of interest was "just not rational."
Chairwoman Karen Mellinger voiced support for Harrington, saying, "What Ken has said publicly is what he believes." She went on to take partial responsibility for what she admitted was a breach in protocol. "With Ken as a new member, it was really the responsibility of the chair or one of the more experienced members, such as myself, to tell him to come forward," she said. Craig Bruder had been the chairman at the time the discussion began on building a new garage.
Della Rocca posted on the Banner's Facebook page on Tuesday, calling into question "the integrity of a Select Board member who has direct financial interest in a project and in months of negotiation, to my knowledge, never sees fit to mention it publicly."
Della Rocca also brought up comments made by Harrington during the meeting, in which he said that, at the time the board's conflict of interest policy was adopted, he had publicly expressed that the policy would negatively affect him more than the other members of the board, as his business, Ken Harrington Construction, was planning to bid on several town projects. "First of all, if he has such a direct interest in so many town projects, then perhaps it's inappropriate to serve as a Select Board member, since many projects that he bids on or could have bid on will directly affect him financially," said Della Rocca, "Second, stating that there will be future conflicts of interest is interesting, but is not a defense."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB.
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