NORTHAMPTON – Hampshire Council of Governments Executive Director Todd Ford and three employees may take jobs with a company in the running to buy the council’s electricity business, ethics disclosures filed with the state show.
The council, which announced in April it was shutting down due to lack of funds, is in the process of transferring its services to other organizations. One of those services is Hampshire Power, which sells electricity to businesses, nonprofits and municipalities around the state.
The prospective buyer MassAmerican Energy LLC, disclosure forms indicate. MassAmerican is a solar energy provider in Chelmsford.
Messages left with Ford and MassAmerican were not returned.
Ford, who earns $124,000 per year as director of the council, has been considering a move to MassAmerican since at least 2017, according to paperwork he has filed over the years with the State Ethics Commission.
The Republican obtained the disclosures from Ford, the three employees, and council Chairman Russell Peotter through a public records request to the State Ethics Commission.
Disclosures from May of this year say Ford and council employees Sophie Theroux, Diane Sexton and Marin Goldstein all “have a financial interest” in the sale of Hampshire Power because their “employment may migrate” to MassAmerican Energy.
Peotter’s disclosure says he is a trustee of PeoplesBank, which does business with MassAmerican.
In a recent interview, Peotter would not say whether MassAmerican is a potential buyer. But he said the agency’s energy business is being sold for “pennies on the dollar” and characterized it as a “fire sale.”
He said the Board of Councilors is expected to vote whether to approve the sale during a meeting scheduled for the last week in August.
State legislators have advised the council to “move quickly” to liquidate its assets, Peotter said. A bill pending before the Senate Ways and Means Committee would have the state take over the council’s pension liabilities and assume ownership of its headquarters, the Old Courthouse in downtown Northampton.
Peotter praised Ford’s energy-related work for the council.
“He built this business. He’s developed an incredible wealth of expertise and is recognized in the industry,” the chairman said.
A disclosure Ford filed March 27, 2017, with State Ethics Commission indicated that he would recuse himself from Hampshire Power because he might take a job with an energy business. It said a potential purchaser came forward in January of that year, “contemplating that certain ‘key staff’ may become employed by the potential purchaser as part of the proposed transaction.”
Peotter made a determination, in a document attached to the Ford disclosure which states: “I am assuming responsibility for the particular matter” and “I have determined that the financial interest is not so substantial as to be deemed likely to affect the integrity of the services which the county may expect from the employee.”
He wrote that the Board of Councilors “cannot meaningfully engage in negotiations with potential purchasers without the assistance of the Executive Director.”
Ford’s involvement in the potential sale is for “Supervising and directing the efforts of HCG employees whose assistance may be required” to complete the sale. Ford must make an additional disclosure “immediately upon receiving an offer of employment from a prospective purchaser,” the disclosure says.
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