, Salem, MA

January 31, 2013

Selectman's potential conflict may pose problem


---- — DANVERS — Selectman Michael Powers, who is a teacher at Danvers High, has declared that he has a conflict of interest when it comes to voting on a warrant article on the school budget, so he won’t do it.

Now it appears that Selectman Gardner Trask may have a conflict, too.

Trask does not work for the School Department, but his wife, Patricia, does, as an administrative assistant.

If Trask abstains from the school budget vote, too, that would leave only three members of the five-member board who could vote on school funding, one of the largest single spending items in the town budget.

Trask’s conflict is not new. Trask was elected in 2006, and his wife has worked part time for the schools since 1999, processing insurance claims and doing clerical work.

Since he became a selectman, Trask said he has asked every year, when the School Committee comes before the board for a recommendation, whether he should recuse himself from voting on the school budget and has been told he does not need to.

“I am in a position that is less direct than Michael,” Trask said in an interview.

But this year, Town Manager Wayne Marquis checked with the town’s lawyer, and they decided to make the process more formal.

Trask wrote a letter to fellow selectmen disclosing the conflict of interest and asking them for an exemption to remain on the board.

To remedy the conflict of interest, he asked that the article for school funding be separated from the larger budget article, so he could abstain from voting on the school budget.

But the board held off voting when it took up the matter Jan. 15.

Selectman Dan Bennett said at the meeting that to grant Trask the exemption would leave three board members to vote on what is a sizable chunk of town spending.

“I’m not comfortable with that,” Bennett said.

Selectman Keith Lucy said he, too, didn’t like the idea of Trask being unable to vote on school funding.

“It’s the insight,” Lucy said. “It’s not only the recusal of the voting, it’s the recusal from the reasoning of the voting.”

Powers noted that the school budget is put together and presented by the School Committee, and selectmen normally abide by it.

“It has not been a significant, debatable point,” Powers said.

Lucy asked what happens when his daughter works for the Recreation Department in the summer — would that trigger a need for an exemption on voting on the town budget?

In the absence of those answers, selectmen tabled the matter to an upcoming meeting.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.