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August 22, 2013

Shellfish constable signs financial interest disclosure

NEWBURY – Selectmen have agreed to sign off on disclosure forms for Charles Colby that indicate he has a financial interest connected to his role as shellfish constable.

After a resident voiced a complaint to the Board of Selectmen relating to the impropriety of having someone who works in the commercial clamming business acting as the regulatory authority for the town’s shellfish industry, Town Administrator Tracy Blais contacted the state’s Ethics Commission for advice.

She was told that Colby could mitigate the appearance of a conflict of interest if he files a standard form used by non-elected municipal employees in such cases and the selectmen approve it.

Colby acknowledged that duties requiring him to investigate and levy fines for harvesting undersized clams and to close clam flats from time to time, are actions that, as a professional clammer, could impact him financially.

By signing off on the forms, selectmen asserted “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.”

In June, selectmen went behind closed doors with Colby, the town counsel, and the police chief to discuss strategy with respect to litigation and “complaints brought against a public officer, employee, staff member or individual.”

Last month, selectmen chairman Joe Story reported that the issue requiring the closed session remained unresolved and would probably require a second private session.

He added that what was being discussed involved a problem that is common to coastal communities.

During a later portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Colby asked selectmen to consider increasing his hours as shellfish constable to 20 hours – a change that would allow him to access the town’s health insurance plan with a 25 percent co-pay on the premium. As an elected official Colby can already access the town plan but must pay 100 percent of the cost. Police Chief Michael Reilly, who keeps track of the hours the constable works, said Colby is allotted up to 12 hours per week within the police budget. But, he added that Colby often spends more time on the job than the five hours per week for which he usually gets paid.

With 70 to 80 licensed shellfish operators in town, the board acknowledged the extent and importance of Colby’s job in maintaining a healthy and robust shellfish population.

They agreed to look into his request.

Any increase in hours would need budgetary approval at the fall Special Town Meeting, slated for Oct. 22.

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