Signs for garage vote pose conflict of interest, selectman says

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NEW GLOUCESTER — Selectman Stephen Hathorne thinks there were signs of a conflict of interest leading up to the Oct. 16 special town meeting on a proposed new public works garage.

During the debate Monday night at the Memorial School in New Gloucester, Hathorne alleged that Ganneston Construction – the company that worked on the design of the garage facility and will build it now that voters have signed off on the project – paid to make signs that were placed around town encouraging a yes vote on the proposal.

Hathorne also alleges that two members of the New Gloucester public works staff, using a town vehicle, put some of the signs up around town at the direction of the Public Works director. Hathorne declined Wednesday to say where he received the information.

Ganneston Construction CEO and owner Stacey Morrison said Tuesday that she offered to pay for the signs in order to “get the message out” because she didn’t think the town or design committee had the resources to do so. The design committee, which developed the garage proposal, accepted her offer, she said.

Hathorne says that the construction company paying for the signs was “at least a conflict of interest, if not unethical.”

“They stand in line to receive a lot of money from this town if this is approved,” Hathorne said before the vote at the town meeting Monday. Someone in the crowd responded, somewhat sarcastically, “Oops.”

“Oops is right,” Hathorne continued. He said that he couldn’t “find anything illegal with what they’ve done, but I think it was absolutely immoral.”

He said after the meeting Monday night that use of taxpayer dollars to support a private entity through town staff putting up signs would be “absolutely illegal.”

Morrison said that she and her company had already invested in the design of the garage facility and that “our markup on this job is very low.” She said that while she dropped the signs off outside the current public works garage, where she met Public Works Director Ted Shane, it was her understanding that the signs would be put up by design committee volunteers.

Shane declined Monday night to comment on Hathorne’s allegation about public works staff putting up signs, and referred the question to Town Manager Carrie Castonguay.

While Castonguay said that Ganneston Construction did have the signs made, she declined to comment Monday night on whether public works staff put up those signs except to say that it is a “personnel” matter. She said Wednesday that the personnel matter “already has been resolved” but declined to comment further.

Castonguay also said Monday that since have voters have approved the garage proposal, the town will move to finalize its agreement with Ganneston and begin the permitting process for the project.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

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