Advisor chair Peter Pescatore said town counsel had advised the committee that if there were a local bylaw, the State Ethics Commission would remove itself from any investigation of charges.
Cohasset advisors voted 5-1 (George Chamillard was in favor) against both citizen petition articles submitted by Mike Milanoski, former Cohasset acting town manger and current Carver Town Administrator.
Milanoski has not yet presented his articles to Cohasset Selectmen. Selectman chair Fred Koed and Selectman Martha Gjesteby were present at advisors’ Thursday meeting.
What Milanoski proposes is to bring two articles dealing with board of selectmen ethics into the local arena, where selectmen could quarrel among themselves and charge one another with illegal campaign donations and influence peddling. Although as advisory Lynda Moony pointed out, the U.S. Supreme Court has in the last 24 hours put a new slant on campaign donations. The justices ruled (5-4) that removes the limits on the total amount of money donors can give to all candidates. It leaves in the place the base limits on what can be given to each individual campaign.
Milanoski’s first article: “In addition to and consistent with state law, patronage is not a tolerated practice in Cohasset. Members of the Board of Selectmen, their spouses, or partners are prohibited from pressuring, influencing or taking any other action in an effort to secure non-competitive government contracts to (sic) friends or relatives or to hire friends or relatives.”
According to advisor chair Peter Pescatore said town counsel had advised the committee that if there were a local bylaw, the State Ethics Commission would remove itself from any investigation of charges. That means selectmen would have to add a new budget line item to investigate is own membership. Ideally, this would be outside counsel.
Advisory vice chair Nan Roth said: “It seems redundant.”
It’s a murky area,” advisor Lynda Moony opined, saying she could envision years of litigation over the friends or relatives language. Moony and other advisors wondered why both articles were specific only to selectmen and not to other appointed and elected officials.
In response to a question from advisors, Milanoski admitted that he had not looked at any other town’s bylaws with respect to his articles.
According to Advisor Rich Fitzpatrick, town counsel said the bylaw could be enacted, but it could not by its language undermine the state ethics laws. Fitzpatrick also wondered how charges would be investigated locally. He added that Milanoski’s article did not make any mention of fines or consequences for selectmen to have violated the proposed law. Fitzpatrick said Lou Ross of counsel’s firm said penalties and/or consequences were significant.
Moony said Milanoski’s first article needed a lot more investigation, although she liked the idea of it.
Milanoski’s second article:“In addition to and consistent with state law and to encourage integrity with the public member of the Board of Selectmen may not participate in any manner involving a party from which said member has accepted any money, gifts, gratuities or any other thing of value in excess of $50.00 in the aggregate during the candidacy or tenure of said member of the board.”
Advisors didn’t like this article either, saying it didn’t appear to be well thought out.
Milanoski said the reason for the article is that selectmen should disclose aggregate campaign donations received from anybody appearing before the selectmen for a license.
Select chair Fred Koed and others noted the state only required annual donations to be tallied, not aggregate donations, so Milanoski’s second petition violated campaign finance laws. That means even if were to be voted by annual town meeting, it would not pass muster with the attorney general.
Pescatore said all of this was already covered under campaign finance laws.
Koed said if during the past 15 years he had received $50 a campaign ($250 over five campaigns) from any supporter than he would not be able to participate in granting any license. He said Milanoski’s petition article was larger than state law. He added, to laughter, that some of those people who gave him money in his first campaign were no longer speaking to him.
Pescatore pointed out that state law says the aggregate pertains to annual gifts and has nothing to do with tenure.
Selectmen have taken no votes on any citizen petition articles. They have met with governance but have not yet heard from Milanoski.
In related news: advisors are still waiting for an update to the governance committee’s proposed bylaw changes. Advisors voted down the governance committee’s citizen petition to make governance a standing committee; if this article does not pass at annual town meeting, governance will be sunset April 10th.
© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed