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Conway Selectboard looking at filing complaints against former administrator

Board chairman says MacDonald pushed for Rose property contract

  • Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke

    Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Ed MacDonald, former Conway town administrator

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Ed MacDonald, former Conway town administrator

  • Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Ed MacDonald, former Conway town administrator

CONWAY — The Selectboard is gathering information in preparation of filing “multiple complaints” with the state Ethics Commission against the former town administrator, Edward MacDonald.

“The real reason Edward MacDonald resigned from the town administrator position in the town of Conway was because he realized he could not bully or manipulate the Board of Selectmen to get his way,” wrote Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke in a statement to The Recorder.

MacDonald resigned on Jan. 7., giving the Selectboard a 30-day notice which the Selectboard declined on Jan. 14 after discovering MacDonald was still employed as town administrator in the town of Chester.

MacDonald surprised his former employers again on Feb. 11 when the Selectboard received two letters from MacDonald alleging state Open Meeting Law violations and demanding a payout of $14,301 in wages and benefits he claims he is owed.

The Selectboard filed a response to the state attorney general’s office recently and is waiting for a response on whether the attorney general will investigate.

MacDonald sent three emails to the Selectboard recently, requesting the posted agendas for September, October and November, the meeting minutes of Jan. 14 and a list of jobs the Selectboard wanted him to accomplish.

When reached by phone, MacDonald said he made the request because he is “evaluating” the agendas for “the purpose of the open meeting law.”

He would not go into detail on his request, but said “it’ll all play out.”

O’Rourke expects MacDonald is “looking for things to come back with us on. He’s fishing.”

The list of job tasks, O’Rourke said, was an informal list crafted by Selectman Rick Bean. The list included general tasks of a town administrator. O’Rourke couldn’t recall specifically what the list included and the Selectboard cannot find the single sheet of paper MacDonald wants.

The Selectboard said it will respond to the requests within the 10-day requirement under the state’s Public Records Law.

In the meantime, the Selectboard is “gathering information, statements and documents to investigate the possibility of filing multiple complaints with the state Ethics Commission against Edward MacDonald,” O’Rourke said. O’Rourke provided some of that research to The Recorder.

In O’Rourke’s investigation, he disclosed fully for the first time the circumstances around the proposed engineering contract with R. Levesque Associates of Westfield to design a multi-use municipal complex on the Rose property.

In November, the Selectboard was the subject of town scrutiny and criticism when the Planning Board got wind of the proposed contract and what appeared to be Selectboard plans to build a complex on the 11-acre riverfront site off Shelburne Falls Road.

Then and now, the Selectboard denied it would have signed the contract before gathering information and the input of other town boards and committees who had their own ideas for the cornfield.

The proposed contract obtained by The Recorder was for $7,750 and described an agreement in which R. Levesque Associates would determine the viability of the property for use as a public safety/highway maintenance facility. The draft contract referenced architect Christian Carey of Westfield.

O’Rourke said the proposed contract with Carey would have been about $5,000, amounting to a total of about $12,000 in engineering costs.

The contract was never signed. Levesque said he did a free site visit with MacDonald, Bean and Carey on Nov. 8.

During what was supposed to be MacDonald’s 30-day notice period of resignation from his position in Chester, he visited Conway on Thursdays. On MacDonald’s first Thursday, Bean and the town’s former highway boss, Bob Baker, gave MacDonald a tour of town-owned land studied as potential sites for a highway garage, including the Rose property. According to Bean, it was MacDonald who suggested putting a multi-use municipal complex on the Rose property and bringing in the two Westfield engineers for a free site visit on Nov. 8.

On Nov. 19, O’Rourke said MacDonald presented a contract to the Board of Selectmen for services from R. Levesque Associates and Carey, two firms MacDonald had worked with previously in Chester.

“MacDonald was fully expecting the Board of Selectmen to vote to approve the contract and for the chairman of the Board of Selectmen to sign the contract based on his say so,” said O’Rourke. “As chairman of the Board of Selectmen, I told him that since the board did not know this engineer or architect, the board needed much more information. The board also wanted the input of other interested boards and committees.”

When he was elected to the Selectboard, O’Rourke said he sought advice from two former Selectboard members, Joseph Strzegowski and Jack Lochhead, on important issues facing the town, including the Rose property.

After meeting with the former Selectboard members, O’Rourke said he “became knowledgeable about the studies that had been done on the property and some of the potential uses to which it could be put.”

O’Rourke believed there was no need for another study on the property.

“It disturbed Edward MacDonald that the Board of Selectmen did not sign a contract worth about $12,000 to these companies,” O’Rourke said.

When asked why MacDonald had presented the board with a contract before his official start date, O’Rourke said: “That’s a good question. I have no idea why (MacDonald) brought it to us before. Aside from the site visit Rick went on, there were no other conversations.”

MacDonald said he was not aware of previous studies and the Selectboard didn’t mention them until December. He said the Selectboard had him start the project weeks before his start date “because they wanted to get it done.”

Also at the Nov. 19 board meeting, O’Rourke said MacDonald announced that Selectboard meetings would be changed to the first and third Mondays of the month because “there wasn’t enough to do to have weekly meetings and for the convenience of the Selectmen.”

O’Rourke told MacDonald that the weekly schedule would stay the same because the Selectboard has “too much to do to have board meetings every two weeks.”

After MacDonald resigned, the Selectboard found out that the Chester Board of Selectmen meetings are held on the second and fourth Mondays of the month. Unless the Conway Selectboard changed its meeting days to the first and third Mondays, O’Rourke said, MacDonald could not work for the town without violating his contractual obligations.

O’Rourke alleged that MacDonald’s conflict of interest between the two Selectboards was a real reason for his resignation and not because he felt “political interference” to place a candidate on the interview schedule for the town’s highway superintendent, which he has stated was a reason for his departure.

“This put Edward MacDonald in the position of having to resign from one of his two town administrator positions,” O’Rourke said. “Since his short stay in the town of Conway was not going well, he decided to resign his position with the town of Conway. To cover and legitimize his action to resign and to have a basis to make a claim for more than he was owed in unused time, he alleged violations of the Open Meeting Law against the Board of Selectmen and attributed statements to Selectman Rick Bean that were not true.”

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com or
413-772-0261 ext. 268

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