Middlebury board to field conflict of interest complaint

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard is tentatively scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 2, to discuss a conflict of interest complaint brought against Selectman Victor Nuovo in connection with his recent votes on a proposal to build a new municipal building and recreation center.

The complaint, signed by six Middlebury residents, argues that three votes taken by the selectboard at its Dec. 17 meeting should be invalidated because of the participation of Selectman Nuovo, a Middlebury College professor emeritus of philosophy. The votes and discussion related to the selection of a Creek Road parcel as the preferred site for the new recreation center; approval of a related term sheet outlining the basis for a financial agreement and real estate transaction with Middlebury College; and a citizens petition for the Town Meeting Day ballot that would gauge the electorate’s support for keeping the town offices and gym at their current location of 94 Main St.

Nuovo recused himself from the vote on the term sheet but participated in related discussion. He voted on the Creek Road parcel selection and the proposed citizen’s petition.

Residents Ron Kohn, Barbara Shapiro, Virginia R. Heidke, Ben Burd, James D. Spannbauer and Alice Eckles — citing the board’s conflict of interest policy — allege that Nuovo should not have been part of the discussion or voting on the town office and recreation center projects because of his association with Middlebury College. Current plans call for the college to pay the town $5.5 million in exchange for the 94 Main St. site and a Cross Street parcel on which the institution’s Osborne House would be relocated from 77 Main St. The town would use the college money to clear the 94 Main St. site and relocate the Osborne House.

Nuovo was a tenured professor at the college from 1962 to 1994. He now holds the title “professor emeritus,” an honorary title. He is retired from the college, though he has been sporadically called into service on an emergency basis to teach a class or two during the past few decades. The college has served as a pass-through for a Mellon Foundation research grant that Nuovo received.

Nuovo has argued he is currently not a college employee and therefore should be allowed to vote on matters related to the college and the town office-recreation center.

This is the second conflict of interest vote that the group of citizens has filed against Nuovo. The first, back in October, also targeted Selectwoman Susan Shashok, whose husband then worked for Middlebury Interactive Languages (MIL), an enterprise partly owned by the college. Alan Shashok no longer works for MIL. That first complaint culminated in recusals from Nuovo and Shashok on the proposed town-gown term sheet.

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