Conway nixes planned nepotism policy
CONWAY — The town will follow the state’s Conflict of Interest Law and nix a proposed local nepotism policy.
The decision enabled the town to hire Ron Sweet as highway superintendent this week. Sweet’s son, Nicholas, also works in the department. To avoid a conflict of interest, the Selectboard would make financial decisions related to Sweet’s son and Sweet will do the day-to-day supervision.
Sweet also disclosed the potential conflict with the state Ethics Commission.
The state Conflict of Interest Law forbids a municipal employee from participating in any situation in which he or a member of his immediate family has a financial interest. State law makes an exception for towns with populations under 10,000.
The Selectboard reviewed the personnel policies of neighboring towns when making its decision to axe the town nepotism policy. This included the towns of Ashfield, Buckland, Sunderland and Whately, all of which follow the state law.
Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke said the board decided to eliminate the policy because the town doesn’t have a large labor force and the Selectboard is interested in local people who have an interest and a stake in the community.
In 2010, the townspeople authorized the creation of the Personnel Committee to revise town policies and procedures and create a new personnel policy handbook.
After two years, the Personnel Committee submitted a new personnel handbook for Selectboard approval in July.
According to the July 23 meeting minutes, the Selectboard and Personnel Committee discussed nepotism in town departments. Selectman Rick Bean and O’Rourke both felt the policy should be excluded because Conway is a small town. The Personnel Committee, however, suggested it would not be wise to exclude the nepotism policy.
O’Rourke said the Selectboard tentatively approved the handbook and delivered it to department heads to review. He said there were additional questions and the Selectboard decided to hold off on implementing the new policies. It continued to operate under the old handbook, which has no nepotism policy.
O’Rourke said the Personnel Committee will finish final revisions of the handbook by next month.
The town has long operated without a nepotism policy. And the town’s decision to hire Sweet mirrors a similar situation within the highway department about four years ago.
On Jan. 14, 2008, the previous Selectboard made up of Christina Conklin, Jack Lochhead and Joseph Strzegowski hired Adam Baker, son of Robert Baker, the then highway superintendent to work on the highway crew. Robert Baker excluded himself from the hiring process and the Selectboard made the decision to hire Adam Baker, according to meeting minutes. Both Bakers did not want to comment.
“The Selectboard authorized the hiring of Adam. We didn’t want to leave (Robert Baker) with the decision,” recalled Strzegowski.
Like the current Selectboard, the past town leaders also took the town’s limited work force into account.
“When you’re dealing with a small town, you don’t have many choices,” said Jack Lochhead. “People who are out of town can’t get to town during a snow emergency. It’s vastly important to have someone in town. Working with someone from out of town is a huge handicap.”
Lochhead couldn’t recall whether the Bakers disclosed the potential conflict of interest to the state and there is no such documentation at the town clerk’s office, but Lochhead said the Selectboard “were very much aware Adam was the son of Robert.”