Concord City Council Ethics Update Filed for 30 Days
CONCORD, NH — A city ethics update has been suspended for 30 days due to confusion and concern over some of the changes.
The changes arose after newly elected Ward 5 Councilwoman Stacey Brown was accused of a conflict of interest during a vote to approve a financial donation to the city made by her employer. For two January Rules Committee Meetingsproposed changes have been made to ethics to clarify the purpose of the rules – transparency to the public so that they do not think or believe that advisers or others are participating in processes from which they could benefit .
The city attorney was also asked to review all orders and see if any updates were needed.
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Code of Ethics Update Documents
But some changes were concerning – including language that changed ‘a person’ to ‘an officer or elected official’ as well as officers not being allowed to appear ‘on behalf of the private interest of others before the body council of which they are members”.
Conservation commissioner and civil engineer Jeff Lewis said the change would have “unintended consequences” since he, while not attending meetings while working for clients, sometimes represents them through year before the same board of directors. . He called the change “a kind of 180” from what was happening now and, although he thought it was good to review, the changes missed the mark.
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“In my experience, this happens all over the state,” he said. “You’re stepping down as a voting member (and) there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But the change could have unintended consequences for the city.”
Lewis said a number of people who sit on land use boards have a lot of experience — that’s why they’re asked to sit on these boards. He said the change appeared to be something added by the city attorney as a housekeeping item and unrelated to Brown’s vote.
“I would perhaps encourage you to at least ask the rules committee to review the last section,” he said. “Looks like it was thrown in there without being properly checked.”
At-Large Councilor Fred Keach asked Lewis to expand on his concerns about “unintended consequences” since Concord was “a tiny little town; things overlap.”
Lewis, who is the principal owner of Northpoint Engineering, said after working in the city for more than 20 years, including six years on the commission, he may have to step down from the job. The way he viewed the wording, he would conflict due to the client’s work with projects before the commission.
“It happens,” he said. “But, for me, it represents a reversal. I don’t see the connection to this specific thing and what the load was in January. It seems like it’s a bit more than necessary.”
Ward 9 councilor Candance Bouchard, who led the rules committee meetings, said it was a direct request from the town’s attorney to come back with any other issues – so councilors municipalities can move forward.
Byron Champlin, another general councillor, said while he didn’t want to discourage Lewis or anyone else from serving because it was important to get the public involved, the issue was transparency and making sure that the public knew that the officials had not come out. for themselves.
Jennifer Roth of Ward 4 noted that the supplemental ordinance was different from the original and wondered which councilors would vote on.
Bouley said the city attorney would be asked to come and clarify the issues before the vote.
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Former Concord Ward 2 Councilman Alan Herschlag spoke out against the changes as well as the whole situation, calling it “a vicious and vindictive attack” on Brown, who he says is n was not in conflict.
Herschlag raised the issue of a number of votes and meetings Bouley attended where he appeared to be in conflict, including discussions of Langley Parkway, a multi-million route through the West End that primarily benefits employees of Concord Hospital, while his company was a lobbyist for the hospital. Herschlag also said Bouley attended leaf collection meetings conducted by Casella and Concord General Services and did not recuse himself even though Casella was one of his company’s clients. He also raised the issue of Bouley’s failure to announce Intralot as one of his company’s clients during a Keno vote in 2017.
“There are many omissions that need to be corrected,” he said.
Herschlag also raised the issue of Bouley telling Brown she could vote for the foundation’s donation if she wanted to. He said Brown was not in conflict because the vote did not involve her husband, a Concord police detective, and she did not benefit financially from the donation.
“Councillor Brown, as an employee of the foundation, has no financial interest,” he said. “In fact, the foundation did not request or receive money from the city but gave money to the city.”
The former councilman also chastised Ward 3 councilwoman Jennifer Kretovic for making “seemingly false statements” about Brown being conflicted. He said it was likely due to Kretovic and Brown’s unsuccessful opponent for the open seat, Mark Coen, both of whom golf at Beaver Meadow.
“Are they upset that Councilwoman Brown won an election against a strong supporter of the Mayor and Councilwoman Kretovic’s pet plan,” he asked, “to spend millions of dollars on the golf course? Are they unhappy because Councilor Brown openly represents her constituents rather than following the mayor’s agenda Are they embarrassed because of past actions they have taken to water down both the city’s code of ethics and city council rules?
Neither Bouley nor Kretovic responded to Herschlag.
Herschlag suggested councilors should have objected to Bouley giving Brown the green light to vote and compared it to a similar complaint he filed against Kretovic, which was later dismissed.
Herschlag said the changes also completely ignore the county — where the mayor’s wife, Tara Reardon, served as commissioner. He asked, “The question to the council is what the hell are you doing?”
Herschlag suggested the board follow its current rules. He also called for all meetings to be as public as possible – including audio and video recordings available.
During questioning, Keach called Herschlag “angry” and asked if he supported the proposal. Herschlag said he was not in favor of it.
Bouchard said she was leading the committee and working to clarify what a conflict was so there was no confusion in the future – as there was some confusion at the time Brown voted for the proposal.
“There was no vindictiveness during our committee discussion,” she said.
“From where I’m sitting,” Herschlag said, “I don’t see this as a review; I see it as an attack.”
Concord Ward 10 Councilwoman Zandra Rice Hawkins asked if it needed further work and should be fired and Herschlag replied, yes, at a minimum, along with other issues as well. He said the change would also prevent Brown from voting on pay simply because her husband works for the police department.
“If that’s not exaggerated,” he said, “I have no idea what it is.”
Kretovic asked if the public was concerned about whether Brown was getting a pay raise from the city manager. Herschlag said the question was whether Brown had a direct financial benefit.
When Herschlag resigned, Bouley said, “Councillor, I miss you very much. It’s good to see you again,” to a handful of laughter from the other councilors.
During the action phase, Bouchard said the board met twice and explored changes to ethics in an effort to clarify disputes while reviewing them impartially.
Bouchard also addressed a number of issues raised by Herschlag, including the county not included in the change, and asked the city attorney to address other issues as well. Training, which had been given to officials in the past on the Right to Know Act and other issues, needed to be reviewed. While not wanting to speak for others, Bouchard said transparency in government is important and does not only concern elected officials, but also appointed ones.
Seemingly addressing some of Lewis’s concerns, Bouchard said a board member shouldn’t just sit on a board at one point and then get up later and speak on behalf of a client. She denied that the changes were vindictive against any particular person.
Jim Kennedy, the town attorney, spoke about land use boards and said they were a bit different from city council because they are quasi-judicial – like the courts, voting for or against a proposal or a modification of orders. Having members show up for the board next could be difficult, he said. Kennedy said the changes were necessary to establish when a recusal was made; this member cannot be in the same room or involved in any way with another member or board. Members who own property may, however, testify or be involved in claims because of their ownership. The process, he added, was about dealing with third parties.
Keach asked how the council would approach a situation where a councilor with a family member who was also in a union was involved in non-public sessions where a comparison between union issues or wages was discussed. Kennedy said the issue would be more of a recusal and not a conflict of interest.
Rice Hawkins thought the proposal was too broad and was trying to figure out some of the details and concerns. She peppered Kennedy, Bouchard and the city manager with questions trying to figure out the magnitude of the changes.
After some back and forth, Bouley said there were some important updates and clarifications. But he also said there were some things he wanted to think about and offered to put it down for 30 days.
“I want to make sure we’re doing it right,” he said.
By voice vote, the proposal was tabled.