In Conway, choice of road boss is complicated

‘Recommended’ not the same as ‘first choice’

CONWAY — The town Personnel Committee has recommended a Turners Falls man for the highway boss job over its first choice, Ron Sweet of Conway.

The final decision, however, is up to the Selectboard, which is slated to make the final choice at its next meeting on Monday.

“We’re still waiting for town counsel advice,” Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke said.

The recommended candidate, Mark Bernier, 51, is a former highway superintendent in the town of Huntington, where he worked for three winters, starting in May 1993. Before that, he served 20 years in the military, where he says he was in charge of what was at the time the second or third largest motor pool in the world while stationed at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. He also worked briefly for the Shelburne Highway Department, then worked as a truck driver for 15 years.

Despite its recommendation, the Personnel Committee favored hiring Sweet, who has worked in the department as the assistant road boss for three years. He also owns an excavating business.

The committee did not recommend Sweet to avoid a conflict of interest since his son, Nicholas Sweet, works in the department as well.

Instead, the committee recommends offering Sweet a nonexempt working foreman position, which would allow him to continue receiving overtime pay and to advise the highway superintendent.

“We’re looking at the bigger picture,” Heather Rose, chairwoman of the Personnel Committee said. “If Nick wasn’t employed, it’d be a no-brainer.”

State law

The Personnel Committee is following the state conflict of interest law, which sets a penalty for a municipal employee who oversees an immediate family member or partner, who has a financial interest.

State law stipulates it is not a violation if the municipal employee first notifies and files the nature and circumstances of the situation and discloses the financial interest with the state Ethics Commission. The commission must decide whether the interest would affect the integrity of the services of the employee.

When asked whether the personnel committee contacted the state Ethics Commission, Rose said the commission could not comment. She added that the financial interest is substantial in that Sweet would make financial and promotional decisions.

The highway superintendent does not receive overtime pay. The yearly salary is between $46,000 and $48,000.

Whoever is chosen for the job would oversee a $483,417 budget and four workers. The current department employees include Ron and Nicholas Sweet, Adam Baker and Jason Stone.

The highway superintendent job became available after long-time road boss Bob Baker retired earlier this month. Baker has since stayed on as temporary consultant to continue the job until someone is hired and trained.

A foreman job is exactly what Sweet currently does in the department. Although the 20-minute discussion focused on the committee’s desire to promote Sweet, there would essentially be no changes for him.

To avoid a conflict of interest, Sweet would not make financial decisions. He would assign overtime work, but not approve it.

The question was raised why there is a concern now when a conflict of interest existed previously under Baker. Starting three years ago, Baker’s son, Adam, has worked in the department.

O’Rourke explained that the town adopted a new personnel policy to eliminate such conflicts of interests among town employees. He also cited state law as a chief reason.

Rose said the six-person personnel committee was created in 2010 “to prevent (conflicts of interests) from happening. This law comes with a $10,000 personal fine.”

Selectman Rick Bean said the board would research the state’s conflict of interest law.

“We want to be cautious and make the right decision for Conway,” Bean said.

Many in the Town Office lobbied for Sweet, hoping to make an exception.

“We need to find an exemption to the rule,” Selectman Jim Moore said. “We’re already working in conflict of interest as it stands with a couple of positions.”

A week earlier Ed Rose, a resident and former town official, said Sweet is “an excellent operator who knows the equipment. He works smart. He’s honest, dependable and has integrity. I don’t think (the other candidates) come with the qualifications Ron has.”

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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