Kate O’Connor
Kate O'Connor

BRATTLEBORO -- Selectboard Vice Chairwoman Kate O'Connor says her new position as Director of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce will not create conflicts of interest with her work on the Selectboard.

O'Connor was named the new Director of the Chamber of Commerce and she will take over for outgoing director Jerry Goldberg on Nov. 18.

"It never occurred to me that there would be a conflict," O'Connor said. "The chamber does not get any money from the town. If there was ever a case where I was profiting I would recuse myself, but I don't see that happening very often."

O'Connor said that just like any other board member, the situation might come up, and she would make a decision based on the topic being discussed.

At the last Selectboard meeting the board approved a restated priority agreement for a loan to Bagel Works, issued liquor licenses to three Brattleboro businesses, and approved a grant resolution for Mesabi LLC, developers of the Brooks House.

O'Connor said her new role as director of the chamber would not have prevented her from voting on any of those resolutions.

"Our town is so small that it's not like I can do something and not have everyone know about it," she said. "I have always been above board. If the situation ever presents itself I would do the right thing but I don't see it happening very much at all. "

O'Connor did say she would be resigning from her position as vice president of the Building a Better Brattleboro Board of Directors.

The chamber of commerce director is an ex officio member of the BABB board.

"The success of local government depends on the willingness of our citizens, including working people, to dedicate time and effort to understanding and tackling issues that we face as a community," Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said. "When working people decide to give back to our community by participating in municipal government, conflicts of interest sometimes arise and Brattleboro's Town Charter sets out a procedure for how such conflicts should be identified and addressed."

Gartenstein said that O'Connor's new job should not preclude her from taking part in most Selectboard discussions.

"I am not aware of any inherent conflict of interest that would prevent a person who represents the interests of local businesses during their day job from also serving on the Selectboard," Gartenstein said. "Brattleboro's strengths include the vitality of its downtown and the work of merchants who engage in commercial activity here. A strong argument can in fact be made that we are stronger as a community when the voices of all interests, including those of local merchants, are heard and respected."

The Brattleboro Charter states that no Selectboard or School Board member should "vote on any matter where there is a direct or indirect financial or personal interest. It is expected that any member of any town or town school district board, commission, or committee with a conflict of interest will fully disclose the nature of his or her conflict and will recuse himself or herself from a vote on the issue at hand."

The charter goes on to say that the member with a potential conflict can take part in discussions, with the rest of the board's consent, and a member of the public can request that a board member recuse himself or herself if there appears to be a conflict of interest.

The decision of a Selectboard member to recuse him or herself is always up to that board member.

Gartenstein said that he felt strongly that each board member is responsible to talk about any conflict of interest and be able to decide when and if it is appropriate to step down for a vote.

"We are lucky to have Kate O'Connor on Brattleboro's Selectboard. She has solid organizational and developmental skills, works hard, and knows and cares deeply about this community," Gartenstein said. "If a time comes when Kate encounters a conflict of interest between her day job and her elected position, I am confident she will address it and act appropriately under the circumstances."

O'Connor said she was looking forward to working full time for the business owners of Brattleboro.

After working in state government for 12 years. O'Connor said she has the organizational skills to pull together the various businesses and help move downtown in a productive direction.

"When Jerry announced that he would be leaving I thought this would be something I would love to do," said O'Connor. "I love this community, and with Vermont Yankee closing I think this is going to be a very interesting time for Brattleboro. It's going to be a very interesting time to be in that job."

O'Connor said she is not going to take on the director's position with any particular positions in mind, but would rather meet with as many members as possible right away to find out what the chamber can do for them.

"The members are the ones who make the chamber and we have to make sure we are doing what they need us to do," O'Connor said. "I want to find out what is important to them."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.