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Conflict of interest policy overhaul planned


March 03, 2010
BERLIN — The phrase "conflict of interest" may have a whole new meeting soon.

Councilor Tom McCue has decided to take on the task of updating the city's conflict of interest policy, bringing it more in line with state standards.

"That's a buzzword that gets tossed around from time to time," he said, but its legal definition has clear implications. And as they are now, he said, those implications are narrowly defined.

The city adopted the conflict of interest clause, section 2-3 of the city code, in 1978.

"It would be good within our city code to update a 32 year old policy," Councilor McCue said. "I just want to flesh it out and add to it."

The problem, Councilor McQue said, is the scope of the city code.

"It really only deals with one possible area of conflict," he said. "It's relevant to procurement of any supplies."

City agents and employees cannot accept gifts from contractors looking to do business with the city; employees can be fired and agencies can have their contracts canceled for such actions.

But, Councilor McCue said, it does not deal with situations where a councilors private employment interferes with their proper exercise of public duty, for example, or if a personal relationship affects their decisions.

"It needs to be expanded and better defined," he said.

There are state laws than cover some of these topics, but Mr. McCue said he'd like to have all of the rules in the city code.

"It's just clearer and easier for people going forward," he said.

The county commissioners sign an affidavit each year attesting they have conflicts of interest in any of the matters they are voting on, he said, and he would be like to see something similar in Berlin.

State law also allows cities and towns to write stricter conflict of interest rules if they wish. They also allow cities to determine the disciplinary action for violating the rules.

But, Councilor McCue said, the rules don't have to be only about repercussions. Situations may arise where a conflict exists, he said, but if it is disclosed from the beginning and all parties agree to move forward it doesn't create a problem. The rules could be written to reflect that, he said, but in these cased disclosure is the key.

He will look at the language other cities use, he said, in addition to state law, for inspiration.

Any rules he writes will have to go through the council before they will become part of the city code.

Councilor McCue said the idea to review the current conflict of interest rules came out of the city seal discussion. Mayor Paul Grenier brought up the conflict of interest clause in reference to Seventh Street Graphics' donation of material printed with the new city seal on it. Though the matter turned out not to be a case of quid pro quo, Councilor McCue said it got him thinking about how the clause is worded.

He said he will work on the project in his free time, so he doesn't have an expected date to present it to the council.

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