December 7, 2007

Ethics committee proposes policy

Union Leader Correspondent
An ad hoc citizens committee has proposed a new policy that would require town officials to disclose any potential conflicts of interest and bar any board or committee member from representing private interests before the town.

The policy formalizes some things that are unwritten yet already commonplace in town government. Officials on the boards of planning, selectmen, and zoning, often recuse themselves from votes and deliberations because they have a conflict of interest, due to business dealings or other relationships.

The new, proposed policy, which the board of selectmen will be discussing tonight, makes it mandatory that town officials recuse themselves even where there may be the appearance of a conflict of interest in an issue. Under the new rules, officials would also have to annually disclose any potential conflicts of interest that might occur during the year, according to Dan Reidy, the chairman of the committee that drafted the proposal.

The policy goes a step farther in saying that even if someone recuses himself from an issue because of a conflict of interest, that person still is not allowed to represent that private interest before a town board or committee.

Reidy said the committee views the ethics policy as more of an educational tool for town officials. “I wouldn’t say it has teeth at all,” Reidy said. “It’s not really the intent.”

Instead, he said the policy is meant to help officials, especially those recently elected, to understand the expectations that come with public service. Upon adoption of the policy, a copy will be given to each town official, and residents who run for office also get one. Once they get elected, they have to sign a statement saying they have seen the policy.

The policy is officially not an ethics policy. Instead, it has been named the “Disclosure and Conflict of Interest Policy.” Reidy said the name intentionally avoided the use of the word “ethics” because it did not want any one accused of violating it to be tainted as being “unethical.”

The proposal comes at a time when there are no public accusations of unethical conduct in town or any other controversies related to ethics generally or conflicts of interest specifically. Reidy said the board of selectmen wanted to pre-empt any future ethical issues. “This is an effort to have a policy in place in case there was a problem,” Reidy said.

Selectman Scott Gross praised Reidy and his fellow committee members, saying the high quality of their work stood out. “You just don’t see that high level of work for people who volunteer,” Gross said.

The board of selectmen could adopt the policy by a vote after holding a public hearing but Gross said he instead is going to recommend that it put the conflict of interest policy on the ballot, so that it has the resounding support of the public.


Proposed Disclosure and Conflict of Interest Policy

Reproduced by the Goffstown Residents Association.



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