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My Turn: The mayor is not above the law

With the recent revelation of Concord Mayor Jim Bouley’s long-term financial relationship with downtown developer Steve Duprey (“Mayor, developer have business relationship,” Monitor front page, Nov. 23) it appears that Bouley may have violated the city charter, council rules and code of ethics.

This relationship dates back to early 2008 when the mayor’s lobbying film, Dennehy & Bouley, moved into a building owned by Duprey, thus establishing a tenant-landlord financial relationship between Bouley and Duprey.

Since that time, Duprey has had substantial business dealings with the city and the council. At no time did Bouley publicly disclose this financial relationship or remove himself from actions affecting Duprey.

Bouley appears to have violated the Concord city charter, Section 53: “Official Interest in Contracts: No elective or appointive officer or employee of the City shall take part in a decision concerning the business of the City in which the officer or employee has a financial interest aside from salary as such, direct or indirect, greater than any other citizen or taxpayer.”

Does the mayor have a direct or indirect financial interest in his landlord’s dealings with the city?

Since his landlord has control over Bouley’s rent and other terms of the financial agreement concerning his business offices, the answer would appear to be yes. The fact that Duprey is a major downtown developer – and a major Republican activist who might send Republican clients to Bouley’s lobbying firm – makes this relationship even more of a conflict.

Bouley and Duprey – like many people accused of having a conflict of interest – say there is no conflict because they haven’t benefited improperly from this relationship. But it is the relationship itself, not whether someone has benefited improperly from it, which creates a conflict of interest. Conflict of interest laws exist for the public good – to promote transparency, to prevent inside deals, and to avoid lengthy investigations to determine if someone has benefited improperly from such relationships.

It appears that Duprey has benefited from Bouley’s actions. A detailed Concord Monitor article from Jan. 24, 2010 (“Closing the deal”) describes how Bouley, as mayor, joined Duprey in behind-the-scenes lobbying of state legislators to amend a 2009 bill that resulted in Duprey receiving an anticipated million-dollar-plus tax break for his South Main Street development.

There is no mention in council minutes of Bouley receiving authorization to do such lobbying and to involve city officers in his efforts. If Bouley was acting without council authorization, he would have violated his limited mayoral powers and violated city charter Section 27: Noninterference by the City Council. “The City Council shall act in all matters as a body. Members of the Council shall not seek individually to influence the official acts of the City Manager, or any other officer….”

In addition to possible charter violations, the mayor appears to have violated Section 6A of the City Council rules, which states: “No Councilor shall introduce, speak on or vote on any motion, ordinance, resolution or issue in which he/she has an interest, direct or indirect, apart from his/her own compensation as Councilor.”

Multiple times over the past four years, the mayor has acted upon issues involving his landlord. Most recently, Bouley appointed Duprey chairman of the Main Street committee. Its recommendations will affect downtown for years to come. One could argue that Duprey has his own conflict of interest chairing a committee that will impact downtown development. But it was the mayor – who should be well aware of the rules and who should avoid such conflicts – who appointed Duprey to this crucial position.

As someone who has been on the council for many years and mayor since 2007, Bouley should exemplify adherence to the city charter and rules. He has failed to do so. When the Bouley/Duprey relationship was disclosed by the press, it was reported that Bouley would discuss the relationship at the start of the recent council public hearing on Main Street redesign. Some wondered whether Bouley would apologize and recuse himself from action involving Duprey’s committee report.

But at the Nov. 26 meeting Bouley again failed to publicly mention the relationship.

Not only did Bouley give Duprey the first and last word at the public hearing, but Bouley also voted to accept his landlord’s committee report on the Main Street redesign project.

For more than four years, Bouley failed to disclose his financial relationship with a major downtown developer. Now that the press has revealed to the public what he would not, he refuses to acknowledge any conflict of interest and acts as if the city charter and rules do not apply to him. Bouley should not be above the law.

(Democratic Rep. Rick
Watrous lives in Concord.)

From the information provided over the last couple of weeks, it seems that the mayor pays rent at a market rate. He is receiving no favors or perks that aren't available to anyone else. Mr Duprey has some of the nicest properties in the city. Is the mayor supposed to move his business offices to a hovel just to satisfy a small group of people who will never be satisfied? Mayor Bouley's arrangement with Mr Duprey is far different than the arrangement that Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank had with Countrywide Mortgage. Messrs Dodd and Frank received preferential treatment in their applications for their mortgages and special low interest rates on their mortgages while sitting on their respective chambers' Banking Committees. I don't see too many liberals, progressives or Democrats screaming about the preferential treatment accorded Messrs Dodd and Frank.

Rick makes some great points. Let’s hope that our city council and the residents of our city demand a public accounting of their relationship, so that we and not them (Duprey and Bouley) can determine if a conflict exists. It is unfortunate for Concord that our newly comprised Board of Ethics has stated that it isn’t their job to second guess the city council on issues of ethics. A very strange position for a board specifically empowered to rule on issues of ethics related to the council. And it is unfortunate that the city council when establishing the Board of Ethics didn’t give them advisory powers to review issues of ethics before they run amok. The Monitor could do a great service for the folks of Concord by either republishing or establishing a link for 2 articles related to the Duprey / Bouley connection. The first is the article by Shira Schoenberg, “Closing the Deal”, detailing the behind the scenes activities that lead to the Smile Building’s tax breaks and city approvals. The second article, “City Government Made This Story Hard to Tell”, is by Felice Belman detailing the difficulties the Concord Monitor encountered when they were trying to get access to public records related to Duprey’s Smile Building project.

Paragraph 7 pretty well sums up “conflict of interest”. It is not that something did happen but that the relationship sets up a scenario that could allow something to easily happen. It is the same as public officials hiring their own family members into their departments, just too much room for abuse of power. Another example would be Charlie Bass, he attempts to pump tax payer dollars into wood pellet business’ while an extended family member owns a wood pellet company, buys stock in the company and then he goes to work for that same company. Any one item could happen without an issue, but tie the four together and it sure does look like a “conflict of interest” took place.

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