Can a Selectman Appoint a Family Member to a Job?
The recent appointment of a new town administrator for Milford raised questions about why a selectman who voted was able to vote for a relative.
Villani happens to be his second-cousin. How was DeBartolomeis allowed to participate in discussion and vote on his appointment?
The state's Conflict of Interest law prevents elected municipal officials from participating in a matter in which they, or their immediate family, or business, have a financial interest. But those family members are clearly defined in the law: parents, children, siblings, spouse, and spouse's parents, children, and siblings.
Elected town officials also are required to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Elected officials "may not act in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to think that she would show favor toward someone or that she can be improperly influenced," the summary states. "If she cannot be fair and objective because of a relationship or affiliation, she should not perform her duties. However, a municipal employee, whether elected or appointed, can avoid violating this provision by making a public disclosure of the facts."
DeBartolomeis disclosed the relationship, in a meeting of Milford Selectmen on Feb. 6, as the three-member board was beginning to interview finalists for the town administrator position. He also filed the disclosure Feb. 5 with the Town Clerk's office.
In making the public disclosure, DeBartolomeis said the relationship was more of acquaintance, and said it would not affect his decision on choosing a town administrator. "I have checked with town counsel and there is not a conflict of interest. Mr. Villani is not of my immediate family within the meaning of the law. I did, however, want to make a public disclosure . . . so there would not be a perception of a conflict of interest."
Jim Lampke, president of the Massachusetts City Solicitors and Town Counsel Association, said legislators clearly defined the "immediate family" relationships, he said. A cousin would be considered a more distant relationship, he said. "The law allows that."