Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
The search for a permanent town administrator was further delayed on July 28 when Fairhaven Select Board member Keith Silvia interrupted the discussion during the meeting to request that the board table the matter due to what he perceived as another potential conflict of interest.
Mr. Silvia himself is prohibited from any discussion about the town administrator search because of his own conflict of interest, which, according to the State Ethics Code, should prevent him from participating in the matter. Mr. Silvia has been recusing himself and exiting those discussions since February because his wife, Anne Silvia, is the director of the Council on Aging and directly supervised by the TA.
State Ethics defines participation as “approval, disapproval, decision, recommendation, the rendering of advice, investigation or otherwise,” under Section 1 of the Conflict of Interest Law (G.L. c. 268A). The State Ethics Commission’s published guidance on the law further clarifies: “Often, discussing, providing advice or making recommendations about a particular matter may have more of an effect than the employee’s single vote.”
On 7/28, Mr. Silvia interrupted Mr. Espindola and said, “I would like to see if we can table this … because I think there might be another conflict of interest that came up. I spoke with [Town Counsel Tom Crotty]. “He’s on vacation, he’ll be back on [August 2]. He said he’d look into it and let me know.
“I know that this is pressing and it’s important,” Mr. Silvia continued, “but I didn’t want to get us into anymore problems…”
Mr. Silvia would not provide details about the supposed conflict of interest.
“I really didn’t want to get into it; I wanted Attorney Crotty to address it,” said Mr. Silvia. He then said that by the next regular meeting, “If everything is clear, then we can go (forward).”
Mr. Silvia disregarded his own conflict of interest by participating in the discussion on 7/28 and obstructed the TA search process from progressing that night. Mr. Espindola tabled the discussion until the next regular meeting on August 9, with the stipulation that a special meeting could be scheduled before then.
After the meeting, when the Neighb News pointed out to Mr. Silvia that he had essentially violated the Conflict of Interest Law out of concern for someone else’s potential State Ethics violation, his reply was, “Whatever.”
When asked to clarify what he meant, he stated, “I thought it was the right thing to do.”
In a phone interview on August 1, Mr. Espindola disclosed that the alleged conflict of interest Mr. Silvia was referring to involves Mr. Silvia’s wife who, as COA director, recently made Mr. Espindola’s sister, Donna Dwelly, an unsolicited offer of employment to fill a brand-new position at the COA as lead activity aide.
According to Mr. Espindola in a July 30 email to Atty. Crotty and subsequently filed with the Town Clerk’s Office, Ms. Dwelly was not actively seeking employment with the COA when Ms. Silvia contacted her to offer her the position. However, Ms. Dwelly was once associated with the COA before the 2020 pandemic during a time when, through Coastline Elderly Services, she provided services to the COA as part of a grant-funded program.
Mr. Espindola wrote in his email to Mr. Crotty, “To be honest, this whole scenario and the timing of it seemed odd to me from when I first heard about it.”
He said Ms. Dwelly informed him of Ms. Silvia’s job offer and also that, “Anne Silvia was pressuring her to make a decision in a certain time frame…. Quite honestly, I felt the timing and circumstances were suspicious at the time.”
Something else Ms. Dwelly told him also concerned him, Mr. Espindola wrote in the email: “Anne Silvia said to her (during the process of offering my sister the position), ‘Well, I don’t know how this will work with my husband unable to participate in the TA search and your brother unable as well’”
Mr. Espindola said that, before his sister accepted the position, he contacted the State Ethics Commission and received a written response from Amy Nee. In that response, which Mr. Espindola also filed with the Town Clerk, Ms. Nee stated that under Section 19 of the Conflict of Interest Law, a municipal employee may not participate in a particular matter if he or an immediate family member has a financial interest in the matter.
Ms. Nee then concluded, “Your sister’s immediate supervisor would be the [COA] Director [and] not the [TA]. Unless the new [TA], once appointed, would be making decisions imminently about your sister’s wages, hours, or working conditions, your sister’s financial interests would not be affected by who the [TA] will be.”
Nonetheless, Ms. Nee offered Mr. Espindola two options: to recuse himself if he felt he could not be impartial, or file a 23(b)(3) disclosure form “explaining the task you are expected to perform as a Selectman and the relationship … that could cause a reasonable person to suspect undue favoritism or improper influence…”
The disclosure was filed with the Town Clerk on July 28 before the Select Board meeting.
Mr. Espindola also attached to his disclosure a July 14 email Ms. Silvia sent to him informing him that she had offered the position to Ms. Dwelly. She said Ms. Dwelly had wanted to wait until any concerns Mr. Espindola had about the matter were resolved before committing to the position, and wrote, “I am asking that you please get back to me today or tomorrow with an answer. I have to know what I am doing staffing wise asap to ensure the program is staffed appropriately,” Ms. Silvia wrote.
The Neighb News sent Ms. Silvia an email on August 2 asking her how she came to create the new position, whether she knew Ms. Dwelly was Mr. Espindola’s sister, and whether she made any comment to Ms. Dwelly similar to the one Mr. Espindola stated in his email about Mr. Silvia and Mr. Espindola not being able to participate in the TA search process.
The Neighb News also asked Ms. Silvia about a number of payments, including one for $338.69 from 12/13/13 made out to Keith Silvia Custom Builders for work performed at the Senior Center.
In a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request the Neighb News submitted on February 22 this year, records show that Mr. Silvia has received multiple payments for work performed for the town, including one payment dated 7/15/20 totaling $698.82 for work performed at the Academy Building. Mr. Silvia had already been elected to the Select Board and serves as the board’s representative to the Historical Commission, which oversees the Academy Building.
In addition to his conflict of interest violations related to the appointment of Interim Town Administrator and his interference, which resulted in Ms. Graves’s reconsideration as a fourth TA candidate apart from the three selected by the TA Search Committee, Mr. Silvia has also potentially violated the Conflict of Interest Law by accepting at least one payment for work to the Town post-election.
Ms. Silvia, as director of the COA, is also potentially in violation of the COI Law by using her husband’s business to perform work at the COA. The Neighb News also asked Ms. Silvia if she had filed any State Ethics disclosures with the Town Clerk’s office pertaining to her husband’s company.
The Neighb News has filed an additional FOIA request for further information into Mr. Silvia’s payments, and we will report further on them at a later date.
Ms. Silvia did not respond by press time to two emails on two separate days seeking comment for this story.
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