Board of Selectman

Print More
Mary Anne Zak

Mary Anne Zak

BOS recording secretaries served Suffield well with detailed accounts of July and August meetings. July minutes reported that First Selectman Mack recommended that the Board appoint a new town attorney, Derek Donnelly. A 2-3 vote declined to do so.

 August minutes, although not reporting that a formal appointment or motion about a town attorney had been made, presented a sub-title indicating that Donnelly’s appointment would be reconsidered: “Appointment of Derek Donnelly of Blackburn and O’Hara as new Town Counsel.” The BOS passed a 4–0 unanimous vote of approval.

 The two tallies suggest that dynamics were dynamic. Nonetheless, public management of the town council issue appears to have been ultimately professional and discreet. Careful and repeated readings of the minutes reveal that underlying at the root of these matters was conflict of interest.

 A separate issue in the August BOS minutes was a board member’s intense concern about conflict of interest. She questioned whether she herself had had a personal such conflict when taking a certain earlier position. The board member took conscientious action, asking opinions of two local attorneys.

Was the board member the first town official ever to come forward with such a concern at such a personal level? And was the First Selectman the first to raise a sensitive and ethical concern in a board meeting when pertinent parties were present? That she did so openly, discreetly, civilly and professionally is a laudable breakthrough! While some facets of communication could have been changed, the First Selectman’s transparent but sensitive approach was reminiscent of that of first selectmen years ago: they wrote to given town officials urging them to review Suffield’s Code of Ethics about conflicts of interests and to be sensitive to the appearance of such conflicts.

Conflicts of interest have been at the heart of other local matters in recent years. Have they have been bypassed because they can cause tensions as unpleasant in a small town as they are in a great nation?

Conflict of interests is a matter of what is right and wrong, of ethics, of philosophy. Law is a study of law, of what is legal and illegal. Ethics and law are related but separate disciplines. Some behaviors may be unethical without being illegal.

 Conflict of interest has an ancient and scriptural source: “No man can serve two masters.” Wikipedia agrees, defining conflict of interest as “a situation in which the concerns or aims of two different parties are incompatible;” for example, conflict of interest often found between elected officials and corporate lobbyists. It is also found when “a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity.”

 Increasingly we see definitions of conflict of interest ignoring monetary gain. Does our philosophy increasingly believe that a person can serve two masters?

Comments are closed.