Opinion: Editorial ignored some key facts
Angelo Lynn’s invective of Oct. 24 (“Middlebury’s Tea Party? Rarely has this town seen an issue hijacked by a small minority”) ignores a number of important facts:
1. Not everyone who signed the conflict-of-interest complaint opposes the town hall/gym land swap deal. They are concerned about the legitimacy of the process.
2. Not all of the most vocal critics of the project signed the complaint.
3. The selectboard’s conflict-of-interest policy requires selectmen having an association with a business entity to disclose that association when the board is considering an agreement with that business. “Such Selectman,” reads the policy, “shall not participate in any consideration of the matter among the Selectmen or vote.”
4. It is widely recognized that conflict of interest extends beyond direct financial interest. A conflict arises whenever there are circumstances that create a risk that professional judgment or actions regarding a primary interest (as a selectman, for example) will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest (close association with the college, for example).
5. A close association with an institution seeking to do business with the town creates both the conflict and an appearance of conflict. Recusing oneself from votes on such matters keeps the selectman from having to struggle with potentially competing loyalties. Conflict of interest is often a structural, rather than a personal matter, as the board’s policy indicates. The fact that the board member does not feel a conflict does not mean that no conflict exists. (This is the same principle that requires co-defendants in a criminal case to have separate lawyers even when they are closely related.)
6. If selectboard members do not reveal their connections to business entities seeking contracts with the town and proceed to vote on the contracts, then the only recourse the public has is to lodge a formal complaint.
7. Long-term employees of local firms, owners of businesses, and faculty and staff members of Middlebury College have served honorably on public boards throughout the county. When matters occasionally arise that involve their town or school boards with their own organizations, they simply recuse themselves. I have witnessed such recusals a number of times as a member of the Board of Civil Authority when we deal with tax abatement and assessment issues.
Opponents of the land swap/construction plan do not fear a public vote. They have always argued that the decision should be made by the townspeople. They asked that citizens have ample time to examine a detailed final proposal and requested that the vote be moved from a proposed December 2013 date to town meeting in March 2014. At its most recent meeting, the selectboard agreed to make that move on the unanimous recommendation of the steering committee.
No one knows for certain at this time whether the majority of townspeople favors the project or opposes it. As details begin to emerge about the inadequacies of the proposed new buildings, the seriousness of parking and traffic problems they would create and the significant hidden long-term costs that would ensue, doubts about the wisdom of giving up a major piece of Middlebury’s heartland in return for college dollars are growing.
We’re confident that as the public learns more about the shortcomings of this proposal, it will reject it. Those opposing the selloff/construction deal believe there are better solutions to the problems of the current town offices and municipal gym. We ask that the selectboard develop an alternative plan for consideration by the town. The contemplated $2 million bond could be used, for example, to make striking improvements to our facilities and preserve the current site as public land.
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