- JAMES BUCK
As South Burlington leaders pursue their dream to build a $300-million downtown in Vermont's most suburban community, some residents are asking whether it's appropriate for construction and real-estate executives to serve on city bodies that shape the rules for how the land will be developed.
already has an ethics policy for its public servants, but is it working?
The issue flared up last Thursday evening, when a member of a new citizen activist group told the city council and planning commission at a joint meeting that they are ignoring a blatant conflict of interest.
Duncan Adamson of SB VT Community Watch read a prepared statement that did not name but referred to Art Klugo, a planning commissioner who works as director of business acquisition at South Burlington-based PC Construction, formerly Pizzagalli, with annual revenues of more than $500 million.
In addition to serving on the South Burlington Planning Commission
chaired a city task force that earlier this year recommended closing and possibly selling Rick Marcotte Central School, which is in the zone slated for downtown redevelopment.
The group also suggested building a new, consolidated elementary school elsewhere that could cost tens of millions of dollars.
So far, the Central School
In an interview before the meeting last week, Klugo
said: "There is absolutely no conflict of interest.
And, as of Thursday, Klugo was not listed as a planning commission member at all, even though he joined the group in late summer.
Prior to that, and before he worked at PC Construction, Klugo served on the South Burlington Development Review Board.
said the criticism is off base.
Nothing in his
day job influences what he
does on the planning commission, he
were to bid on a public school project in South Burlington
, it would have no special advantage, Klugo
said: "We would have to compete against other firms in the area to secure any work that we would actually build."
As for working with a private developer on the multimillion-dollar construction jobs likely to spring up with the mixed-use downtown, Klugo
would have no unfair advantage there, either, if the firm sought those contracts.
In the contemporary case of Klugo
, "all of the appropriate questions were asked before he was appointed to the planning commission, and the councilors felt comfortable in appointing him," said Nowak.
Nothing so far has posed a conflict, according to Klugo
, and he
has not recused himself from any votes.
Monica Ostby thinks it's appropriate to raise questions about the role of McKenzie, Klugo
and others with real- estate and construction backgrounds.
For example, Klugo
and the rest of the task force went into an executive session January 29 to discuss the appraised value of the city's schools, including Central School
The session was closed to prevent premature disclosure of information that could adversely affect any sale.
Ostby now questions if Klugo
had access to proprietary information that could, potentially, give PC Construction
an unfair advantage, should the firm land future school or downtown contracts.
dismissed the suggestion.
Either by Art
himself or by a knowledgeable professional on the city staff, who should have the city's best interest in mind at all turns.