NEWBURY — Following a critical report from the state office of the inspector general, some decisions of the Board of Selectmen likely will be referred to the state Ethics Commission, and the chairman of the selectmen said that's probably a good thing.
On Wednesday, the state's inspector general issued a 98-page report that alleged conflict of interest regarding the way the board is managing commercial activity on the Parker River.
The report took issue with the fact that several members of a waterfront advisory committee to the selectmen own marinas on the river.
In addition, state officials criticized selectmen Chairman Joseph Story for voting on matters relating to the waterfront when he owns property abutting the river. He said he is willing to discuss the matter with state officials.
"The report pointed out some things that we didn't consider," said Story, who owns riverfront property near the Riverfront Marine Sports Inc. "The Ethics Commission can give us some direction.
"I'm not an expert at a lot of things about the commercial waterfront, so we put together an advisory committee of people who know the river and in some cases are involved in business there. We didn't think it would blow up like this," he said.
In their recommendations, state officials said Newbury should report the facts concerning appointments to the Harbormaster Advisory Task Force to the state Ethics Commission. The commission has the power to fine local officials who are found to have violated the state's conflict-of-interest laws. Those laws make it illegal for public officials to use their position for private gain.
The state report, in part, added that "the chairman voted to discontinue mooring fees for private business on the river and grandfather the number of commercial moorings allotted to those businesses."
But the inspector general does not have disciplinary power.
"We don't have the authority to make a town do something," said Jack McCarthy, a senior assistant inspector general. "We will send the report to the DEP and other agencies and hope the recommendations are followed. We provide sunshine — telling the people what is happening — and others take it from there."
The report also said that Newbury should report to the Ethics Commission Story's role in voting on riverfront policy recommendations after he has solicited money (on behalf of his father) from two past owners of Riverfront Marine, as well as the father of the present owner.
Story said, "My father owned land near what's now Riverfront Marina, and some of the floats were in front of his property. The law says in order to get permits for the floats, they must be in front of your property or you must get an agreement from the owner."
He says that through an agreement, he was paid by former owners, adding that, "I don't understand why the Ethics Commission would be interested in that when it happened about 19 to 21 years ago."
Story owns the property now following the death of his father.
In a separate issue, the report found fault with Riverfront Marine Sports, stating that the business has never received appropriate state approvals to expand its operation on the river.
State officials said that an investigation has revealed that Riverfront expanded its boat structures in front of and extending west in the river for several hundred feet without express approval of the Army Crops of Engineers and the department of Environmental Protection.
"The Office of the Inspector General has examined plans submitted to the Army Corps in April 2010 by Riverfront for approval of an extension of several TDocks further into the Parker River and the addition of a new TDocks to the west of its other TDocks. These plans also show two 220-foot floating docks located toward the far side of Riverfront's property in the Parker River.
"It appears that Riverfront wishes to place these new floating docks in the Parker River in the future to replace its existing commercial moorings. The harbormaster has informed (the Inspector General) that the work on this expansion plan, with the exception of the two 220-foot floating docks, was already completed by Riverfront before Riverfront received Army Corps approval in June 2010.
"The fact that Riverfront completed its TDock expansion without notifying DEP and obtaining a new (Chapter 91) license or an amendment to its existing license is most troubling."
Harbormaster Brendan Stokes has declined comment.
On Thursday, David Moulton, who owns Riverfront with his family, said he had not read the report and could not comment. He was unavailable for comment Friday.
Anthony Penski, acting town administrator, said that the state report will be on the agenda for the selectmen's meeting Tuesday.
In regard to the totality of the report, Story said, "On some of these things, we (selectmen) didn't fully understand the process. I think once I get the opportunity to explain things, this situation will be cleared up."