BRUNSWICK — The Town Council on Monday amended the town’s conflict of interest policy to allow relatives of council members to serve on more council-appointed boards and committees.
The conflict of interest policy currently does not allow any relatives of town councilors to serve on a board or committee that receives its appointments from the council.
That policy was put in place in late 2013 after a widely-publicized conflict of interest debate regarding a “highly unusual,” forgivable loan the Brunswick Development Corp. granted to the husband of a sitting board member and former councilor.
The private development corporation’s board did, and still does, have slots for current town councilors and staff. But it amended its policies around conflict of interest and increased citizen representation on its board after the 2013 loan.
Councilor Jane Millet said Monday night that that situation caused the council to review and amend its own policies. “There was so much consternation about that,” she added.
But it later came to light that the council’s new policy regarding board appointments was “too restrictive,” according to a Dec. 3 memo from Town Clerk Fran Smith.
On Monday, Millet, who chairs the Appointments Committee, said the situation was brought into stark relief when former councilor Jacqueline Sartoris had to step down from the Sewer District Board of Trustees after her husband Steve Walker was elected to the council in 2013.
“She had a lot of expertise,” Millet said, “and she had to step down.”
In her comments to the council, Millet said she remembered the process of passing the new conflict of interest policies as “rushed.” After the meeting, she clarified that the resignation of former Town Manager Gary Brown had dominated much of the council’s end-of-year business.
The council in May 2014 moved to have the restriction on relatives apply to only five boards: the Planning Board, Village Review Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Assessment Review Board, and Marine Resource Committee.
The Appointments Committee endorsed that recommendation at their Nov. 18 meeting.
There are 16 other boards and committees that relatives can now serve on, according to the town’s website, including the Sewer District Board of Trustees and the Personnel Board.
Speaking Tuesday, Millet said those five board were chosen because “those are the boards that are sort of quasi-judicial or quasi-governmental.”
“They’re approving subdivisions, they’re making changes in the way that we do things that are (actually) enforceable,” she added.
Millet said she is confident the new policy protects the “heart” of the conflict of interest definition, which is that councilors or their families should not receive “material gain” as a result of their public office.
She added that these policies must be thoughtful and deliberate, especially in a place like Brunswick.
“We live in a small town,” she said. “There are always going to be overlaps and conflict.”