Planning board candidate John Fulone responded this week to concerns raised by several Mashpee voters that his employment with Cape Cod Five could create a potential conflict of interest in negotiations with Mashpee Commons.
Mr. Fulone said he has consulted the state Ethics Commission and has been told that his senior vice president position at the bank does not present conflict and he would not have to recuse himself from discussion on the Commons’ proposed expansion.
He said an attorney with the Ethics Commission told him “she was confident that based on my role at the bank, that there was no conflict of interest because I have no lending authority, I have no input on the lending the bank makes.”
Mashpee residents who have raised concerns about a potential conflict of interest have cited a $58 million mortgage that Cape Cod Five has with Mashpee Commons, which entered into a development agreement process with the town in March. The planning board is the primary negotiator for the town in the development agreement process.
“The planning board’s decision on how Mashpee Commons would be expanded would appear to result in millions or tens of millions of new mortgage business for Cape Cod Five,” Mashpee resident Glenn McCarthy said.
Cape Cod Five’s 2018 annual report, the most recent available on its website, states the bank holds more than $3.4 billion in assets. The $58 million mortgage represents less than 2 percent of those assets.
“It’s definitely, in my mind, a conflict if he is going to be making decisions about something that can benefit his employer. I don’t see how you can get around that,” said Marjorie Hecht, another Mashpee resident.
The residents cite a section of the state Ethics Commission website that explains conflict of interest law for planning board members and states, “You may not participate in any matter that affects the financial interest of your employer (whether or not you worked on the matter for your company.)”
Mr. Fulone said the Ethics Commission attorney told him that the commission will present him with a written finding on the alleged conflict, though the commission could not promise that the document could be provided before the election on Tuesday, June 23.
Those who have raised the potential for conflict said that if Mr. Fulone were to be elected, they would call for him to recuse himself from the Mashpee Commons negotiations.
Mashpee resident and associate planning board member Robert Hansen said he would “publicly request that [Mr. Fulone] recuse himself because that’s the way that it is supposed to be, that’s the way the state intended it and the way that the town should be represented, unbiasedly.”
Mr. Fulone said that, if elected, he would file a public disclosure form with the town clerk that would allow him to participate in the negotiations and would disclose the facts of the alleged conflict.
Section 23(b)(3) of the Massachusetts conflict of interest laws has to do with the appearance of a conflict of interest and does not allow for public employees to participate in matters where they “cannot be fair and objective because of a relationship or affiliation.”
Public employees “can avoid violating [Section 23(b)(3)] by making a public disclosure of the facts,” the Ethics Commission section of the state’s website says. Mr. Fulone said the Ethics Commission told him that such a form would be appropriate in the context of the alleged conflict.
“I understand the question, it is an important question,” Mr. Fulone said of the alleged conflict. “I think I’ve answered it appropriately, I’ve gone to the appropriate sources to get legal opinions.”
“It never even crossed my mind that there would be a conflict of interest,” he said. “There are business people who sit on every board and committee in town.”
The four members of the Mashpee selectmen and two members of the planning board who have endorsed Mr. Fulone stated that a conflict of interest does not exist and maintained their support for the candidate in a letter to the editor this week.
Mr. Fulone said he will provide a copy of the written finding from the Ethics Commission to the Mashpee Enterprise when he receives it.
Gerry Tuoti, a public information officer for the Ethics Commission, referred questions about the alleged conflict to the state website and said he could not disclose whether Mr. Fulone had been in touch with the commission.