Selectboard gifting raises questions

In an attempt to create a nice surprise going-away gift for outgoing Town Manager Joe Colangelo, the Shelburne Selectboard recently voted to repay Selectboard member Dr. Colleen Parker $700 for buying a pair of Red Sox-Yankees tickets for him.

Colangelo, a Yankees fan, was Shelburne’s town manager for four years before leaving to become manager in Hanover, Mass. starting May 1.

The tickets were for two $351 seats at Fenway Park right behind home plate, Parker said at the April 24 Selectboard meeting.

That was Colangelo’s last meeting as Shelburne town manager. But the Selectboard did not discuss publicly either at that meeting, nor at the prior meeting, any plans to purchase the tickets.

Selectboard member Dr. Josh Dein brought that question up to the board as they discussed reimbursing Parker for the tickets at the May 8 meeting, after Colangelo had moved on.

“I’m trying to understand what the process was to: One, determine that there was such a gift. Two, to determine what kind of cost would be involved with that gift. Where did the money come from to buy it? Were town funds used to buy the gift and we are retroactively approving it?” Dein asked.

No, Selectboard Chair Jerry Storey said. “The funds were one of our member’s own funds. So this is not retroactive. This would take the form of a reimbursement for her expenditure to this point,” he said.

Storey recalls asking Parker to look into a gift for Colangelo when the manager announced that he would be leaving. Between then and the April 24 meeting, he said he “lost the thread on the gift,” because they did not know there would be an April 24 meeting. Dein and Selectboard vice-chair Jaime Heins were not able to attend the meeting. Selectboard member Mary Kehoe attended the meeting remotely from vacation.
Storey also added there was supposed to be an element of surprise with the gift. The May 8 meeting was the next available meeting to discuss the gift and vote to reimburse Parker from the board’s discretionary fund.
Dein questioned how the whole matter unfolded.

“As we discussed by email, while I recognize having a surprise gift is maybe appropriate in a private situation, I think as a public body, the decision is made to expend funds,” Dein said. “So, this is a situation where a gift has already been given without board discussion of whether there would be a gift, or what that gift would be.”

The Selectboard voted 4-1 to reimburse Parker for the purchase. Dein voted against.
Following the vote, Dein suggested that the board create a policy on future gift-giving. Storey agreed.

Potential for a policy
This isn’t the first time Selectboard members have faced the question of a policy on gift-giving. After March town meeting, the board debated how to acknowledge the former Selectboard chair Gary von Stange for his nine years serving on the board. Von Stange did not run for re-election. The Selectboard ultimately decided to make a $500 donation to the Shelburne Food Shelf in von Stange’s honor using money from its discretionary fund.

“In general in the last couple of months there have been questions about the town accepting gifts and donations, and the town buying gifts for town officials,” Dein said. He pointed to the contribution by the Vermont Natural Resources Council to the town to pay legal fees in the court case against Vermont Railway, and another situation last year when an individual offered to donate funds to cover costs for the ethics committee to pay for legal consultations.

In Vermont, there are no laws for municipalities about gift-giving using taxpayer funds.
“School boards have much more in statute,” said Jenny Prosser, general counsel for municipal questions at the Secretary of State’s office. “There are no parallels state-wide for other local boards.”

The Shelburne Ethics and Conflict of Interest Ordinance addresses gifts as they pertain to public officials while in office and performing their jobs. It doesn’t address gifts given after someone has left office.
When asked about the baseball tickets, Parker agreed it “was a nice thing to send [Colangelo] off with.”
But a policy “is never a bad idea,” Parker said. She added that a policy would help make the such decisions clear and help keep personal feelings out of such considerations.

Selectboard member Jaime Heins said in this case, the gift was given to Colangelo after he ended his job with the town.

“At the time of the gift, Mr. Colangelo was no longer a ‘public official’ as defined in the Town’s Ethics and Conflicts of Interest Ordinance, so there are no issues in that regard,” Heins said. “I believe we should spend some time as a board developing a more formal gift policy to recognize the efforts and contributions of outgoing public officials, and this is on the chair’s radar.”

The tickets were for a game at Fenway when the RedSox played the Yankees in a three-game series May 8-10. The Yankees won the first two games, Boston won the third.

Board appointments
At its May 8 meeting, the Selectboard made a number of appointments to town boards and commissions and for representatives to several regional government boards. Those appointments were:

• Ethics Committee liaisons: Selectboard members Jaime Heins and Mary Kehoe.

• Town manager search committee: Chris Huestis of the wastewater department.

• Clean water advisory committee: Chris Robinson, wastewater superintendent, and Town Planner Dean Pierce as the alternate.

• Transportation advisory committee: Dean Pierce, town planner, and Interim Town Manager Lee Krohn.

• Chittenden Solid Waste District: Tim Loucks was reappointed. Lee Krohn as the alternate.

• Bike and Pedestrian Paths Committee: Hazel Civalier was appointed as the student representative.

• No appointments yet to the library steering committee, nor Chittenden Regional Planning Commission board.

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