SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

August 21, 2013

Danvers selectman’s disclosure causes friction

Trask's wife, daughter work for school department

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — Gardner Trask, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, disclosed earlier this month that both his wife and his daughter work for the school department.

And while Trask said the disclosure was routine, not everyone agreed with his assessment.

His disclosure is “not an uncommon process, and I’m not the first to blaze this trail,” he said in making his announcement at a meeting on Aug. 6. To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Trask said he will abstain from voting on matters relating to the school budget, both as a selectman and at Town Meeting.

He has filed a separate disclosure with the state Ethics Commission.

Trask previously disclosed his wife’s employment as an administrative assistant and in billing with the student services department. His wife, Patricia, earns approximately $37,000 for a job that predates his time on the board, he said.

What is new is the disclosure that his daughter, Lisa, 22, who graduated from Bridgewater State University in December, was working as an academic assistant at the high school, managing a classroom where special needs students come for support for testing and homework. She is seeking to become a Danvers teacher. Trask said yesterday he does not know what her employment status might be in the coming school year.

“I receive no benefit directly from my daughter as a result of her employment,” Trask said.

Not every selectman was pleased with Trask’s latest disclosure.

“You are not asking for a vote, which is good, because I couldn’t vote for this because it is a conflict of interest,” Selectman Dan Bennett said at the meeting. “I don’t see how by disclosing an appearance of a conflict of interest it goes away. That is my opinion and my feeling.”

Bennett said the town would be better served by getting an opinion from the state Ethics Commission. Bennett also appeared troubled that Trask would not be voting on the school budget, as school-related matters make up 51 percent of the town’s budget. He wondered if that would bar Trask from voting on school debt.

“I will vote on those subject matters unrelated to the presented school budget,” Trask said.

Trask’s disclosure comes after former Selectman Mike Powers resigned in April over his dual role as a selectman and special education teacher at Danvers High. Powers had twice disclosed this apparent conflict and asked for an exemption, and had promised to abstain from voting on the school budget. Town counsel advised, however, that Powers had to give up one of his two positions.

Selectman Diane Langlais said she had no problem with the disclosure. “I love when Danvers people get Danvers jobs,” she said at the meeting. Selectmen David Mills and Bill Clark did not comment.

Town Manager Wayne Marquis told the board the disclosure does not rise to the level of the town having to seek an opinion from the Ethics Commission.

“Again, that is a matter of opinion,” Bennett said, noting that in Powers’ case, everyone thought he could continue to serve as a selectman, but the town counsel advised differently.

Clark told the meeting he would feel more comfortable seeing an opinion.

Trask was elected in 2006, and he earns a $3,500 stipend for being chairman.

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