Mayor Jim Bouley, developer Steve Duprey have business relationship
Concord Mayor Jim Bouley’s lobbying firm rents office space from developer Steve Duprey, whom Bouley appointed this fall as chairman of the city’s Main Street advisory committee.
Bouley is a partner in the lobbying firm Dennehy & Bouley, which moved into an office in the Hills Court complex on Hills Avenue in 2008, Duprey said, shortly after his company purchased the office unit.
In September, Bouley chose Duprey as chairman of a 17-member committee to develop recommendations for the city’s $7.85 million Main Street redesign project.
Bouley said he has not publicly disclosed his firm’s relationship to Duprey because he doesn’t believe it is a conflict of interest.
“There’s no secret, there’s nothing to hide,” Bouley said this week.
The city’s Code of Ordinances states that city officials “shall disclose any personal financial or other interests in matters that come before them for action and shall remove themselves from decision making if they have a conflict of interest.” Under the city’s ethics code passed last year, conflict of interest involves making a decision that affects a city official’s financial or business interests.
“I don’t see how I benefit whatsoever,” Bouley said of his firm’s relationship with Duprey. “Do I rent property from a company that he’s involved in? Yes, we do. But that’s a business partnership. It’s me and my partner (Mike Dennehy). We pay, I think, more than we should for the space, and so I don’t see where there’s any benefit whatsoever.”
Last year, the Concord City Council implemented an ethics code and created a Board of Ethics. At-Large City Councilor and Rules Committee Chairman Dan St. Hilaire said the changes aimed to better define ethical guidelines for public officials.
The ethics code also defines an apparent conflict of interest, which does not affect an official’s financial interests “but does call into question his or her objectivity.”
St. Hilaire said apparent conflicts of interest are defined on a case-by-case basis when specific complaints are filed with the city’s Board of Ethics, which was also created under last year’s changes. But a complaint “obviously has to have some substance,” St. Hilaire said. The five-member Board of Ethics reviewed its first five complaints in July and dismissed all of them.
“Concord’s a small city,” St. Hilaire said. “So people know each other in Concord, so people are going to always claim that there’s some conflict one way or the other when the reality is there may not be.”
Both Bouley and Duprey said the landlord-tenant relationship does not affect city business. Duprey said he negotiated the lease agreement in 2008 with Dennehy, who is a close personal friend.
Bouley said the firm pays market rate for the office space, or about $20 per square foot. That rate has increased since he moved into the office, Bouley said, as the tenants pay for increases in taxes and other expenses.
“We certainly didn’t get a break on our rent, I can tell you that,” Bouley said.
After the city received a $4.71 million federal grant in June to redesign 12 blocks of Main Street, Bouley said he spent months developing a list of potential advisory committee members before presenting the 17-person list to the Concord City Council for approval in September. The 13 councilors present at the Sept. 24 meeting unanimously voted to appoint the committee, formally called the Downtown Complete Streets Improvement Project Advisory Committee.
The committee’s role is strictly advisory, and Bouley asked it to develop recommendations for the streetscape project, which is scheduled to be complete by 2015.
Several committee members, including Duprey, are downtown property or business owners. Bouley said he chose a variety of committee members with varying and competing interests and weighed whether they could be open-minded and receptive to public input.
“In terms of the issue of the landlord being a concern, that was not one of the concerns that came about,” he said.
Duprey has also appeared before the city council in recent years for zoning changes and deals related to his redevelopment projects on South Main Street. He said he negotiates with the city’s staff members – not elected officials.
On Monday, Duprey will present the Main Street advisory committee’s report to the city council.
“It’s cool by me, I don’t see any problem,” Duprey said. “I don’t think (Bouley) gets to withhold rent if he doesn’t like my report.”
Bouley, who was first elected mayor in 2007, said he’s an advocate for transparency in government and doesn’t think his company’s landlord is something that needed to be publicly disclosed.
“If it’s something that concerns somebody, I’m more than happy to talk about it,” he said.