FAIRHAVEN – Selectman Bob Espindola does not have a conflict of interest when it comes to the town’s existing wind turbines and should be allowed to vote on related issues, an attorney hired by the Board of Selectmen has determined.
Before he ran for office, Espindola and 22 others sued the town in an effort to shut down the town’s two wind turbines located at the wastewater treatment facility. Espindola dropped out of the suit when he decided to run but his initial involvement raised questions as to whether the turbines would affect the property value of his home, thus giving him a conflict of interest.
Lauren Goldberg, an attorney for the Boston-based law firm Kopelman and Paige, wrote Espindola last week that “your previous involvement in the wind turbine lawsuit does not in and of itself create a financial interest.”
“You would not be prohibited from participating in matters involving the existing wind turbines,” she wrote.
Goldberg’s letter has been reviewed by the State Ethics Commission, which approved Goldberg’s advice.
“I concur with the conclusions you stated,” Commission General Counsel Deirdre Roney wrote in a letter to Goldberg.
Goldberg does suggest in her letter that Espindola file a disclosure form with the Fairhaven town clerk stating his original involvement with the lawsuit in order to avoid future ethical dilemmas.
“The section states that it is unreasonable to conclude that a state or municipal employee has acted (out of self interest) if the employee has disclosed in writing … the facts that would otherwise lead to such a conclusion,” she wrote.
Espindola said he is pleased with the advice.
“I’m glad to have this statement behind me,” he said. “It’s not good or bad, necessarily, but it’s clarity.”
Selectmen Chairman Brian Bowcock, who previously argued that Espindola should not participate in turbine-related votes, said Tuesday he still believes Espindola “probably shouldn’t participate” but “it’s not my job to enforce the rules.”
“They say it’s self-policing, so if he votes and he still has a conflict, that’s his problem,” he said.
The letter leaves Espindola the option to recuse himself from discussions.
Espindola, who had been recusing himself from turbine-related votes until he heard back from the attorney, would not say whether he would now participate in more votes.
“You can’t anticipate every scenario that comes up,” he said. “When things come up that are specific, I’ll make that judgment at that time and refer to this guidance and use it accordingly.”
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