NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

April 20, 2013

West Newbury fire chief is subject of ethics probe

WEST NEWBURY — It appears fire Chief Scott Berkenbush is the subject of an investigation by the state Ethics Commission.

The chief confirmed that he had been contacted by the state board about a possible conflict of interest related to the selection of the town’s new ambulance service, Cataldo-Atlantic, a company he began working for last year. But Berkenbush, who also serves on the Board of Fire Engineers, said he wasn’t aware of any actual complaint filed against him.

However, at a meeting Wednesday, Selectman Glenn Kemper seemed unconvinced of this assessment. “The Ethics Commission doesn’t just call people out of the blue,” he said.

The issue arose when Berkenbush filed a disclosure form for which selectmen, as the appointing authority for the Board of Fire Engineers, were required to endorse.

Non-elected municipal employees who have a financial interest in a company doing business with the town use the form.

Berkenbush said he was advised recently by Town Counsel Michael McCarron to file the form, which notes that he is a “full time paramedic” with Cataldo-Atlantic and they pay him an hourly wage. The form states that selectmen are required to sign off on the disclosure stating that they have reviewed the matter and determined that “the financial interest is not so substantial as to be deemed likely to affect the integrity of the services which the municipality may expect from the employee.”

McCarron acknowledged that ideally the form “should be done beforehand” -- meaning before selectmen agreed last October to transfer to Cataldo-Atlantic an existing contract it held with AMR, the town’s previous ambulance service.

But he felt as long as the appointing authority is made fully aware of the potential conflict and the form is filed as soon as possible, there shouldn’t be a legal issue for the town.

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