Letter: Conflict of interest? Most assuredly!

Posted

To the editor:

The Barrington Town Council has now before it, a most serious case regarding a conflict of interest, based on the R.I. General Laws and the Barrington Town Charter. 

This unfortunately occurred at the financial town meeting where, the husband of an elected member of the school committee, gained a seat on the committee on appropriations. Only one with a strictly partisan lens or perhaps an absence of any integrity in forming a judgment around facts could dispute this. 

The R.I.G.L Code of Ethics § 36-14-1 Declaration of policy states in part, “It is the policy of the state of Rhode Island that public officials and employees must adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct, respect the public trust and the rights of all persons, be open, accountable, responsive, avoid the appearance of impropriety”…. 

And the Barrington Town Charter regarding the committee on appropriations states in part, “The Committee on Appropriations shall review the detailed budgets of the Council and School Committee and shall meet with those bodies and/or with the town manager and the school superintendent as often as is necessary to develop a recommended consolidated tentative town budget”… 

A few questions emerge for the town council around this new “husband and wife arrangement”? How could residents view this as anything other than the “appearance of impropriety?” How are the “highest standards of ethical conduct to occur?” And how can a committee on appropriations member meet with the committee his wife is on and offer advice and form a consolidated budget with other committee on appropriations members in an unbiased fashion?

One cannot “square this circle.” 

I call on the town council, to seek from both the town solicitor and the state’s ethics commission a formal ruling. I believe the only “fair-minded” solution to this dilemma is the resignation of either one or the other parties and the town council appointing the next-highest vote getter from the financial town meeting. 

If you’ve lived in Rhode Island for any length of time, you know its sordid history on ethics in the political realm. Nothing less than the integrity of our town finances and taxpayer dollars are at stake.

Scott Fuller

Barrington

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Pam Lauria

Scott Fuller's latest inflammatory LTE requires a response. There are some facts that Mr Fuller is either not aware of or has chosen not to share. Mr Douglas actually requested a determination by the Solicitor, prior to finalizing his decision to run. He inquired as to any conflict that would exist if he were to serve on the COA, given that his wife is a school committee member. The Solicitor determined that it was proper for them to both serve, as long as one of them recused themselves at any joint meeting. As it is rare for the entire school committee to interact with the COA, Mr Douglas chose to run.

At the FTM, Mr Douglas made his connection to his wife, and her status as a SC member, known to all in attendance- with pride! He also made it clear that he had asked for a ruling from the Solicitor, who concurred. Was Mr Fuller at the FTM? Was he unaware of Mr Douglas' remarks prior to writing yet another inflammatory LTE? Surely, Mr Fuller is aware that Mr Douglas did not "gain" a seat on COA, but was rather voted onto the COA.

Mr Fuller's letter underscores what seems like a coordinated effort, over the last year, to impugn two committed, tireless, honorable individuals who have advocated for this town and its residents for years. Mr Douglas has volunteered his considerable talents on multiple task forces and committees. He has spent countless hours attending school committee and COA meetings for years and is uniquely able to bring his knowledge of how both of those bodies function to his role on COA. Dr Megan Douglas has also spent years serving this community both at the school committee level (serving on the Health and Wellness committee for years) and as a Girl Scout leader and volunteer in our schools. She is one of the most committed, intelligent and caring women I have ever had the privilege to know.

Obviously, I am fond of the Douglas' and proudly call them friends. However, much more importantly, I am grateful for their service, impressed by their intelligence and skills and hopeful they will continue to make a difference. I am clearly not alone in my assertions, as they have both won their recent elections. I deeply hope the letters aimed at attacking these individuals will cease. I hope, instead, we take a cue from Megan and Scott Douglas and attack the problems our community faces.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.