A diminished Rockport Select Board, comprising acting Chairman William Chapman, Alexandra Fogel and Dale Landrith Jr., voted April 27 to affirm Chairman Robert Duke as a qualified board member. A similar vote regarding Tom Farley did not pass, but due to quorum rules Farley will remain on the board.

The dissenting vote in Farley’s case came from Chapman, who said after the two-hour hearing that while he liked Farley and enjoyed working with him, contracts between the town and Farley & Son Landscaping put Farley in violation of the town charter.

Article II, Section 2 of the Rockport Town Charter states in part, “Select Board members shall not hold any other compensated town office or position of employment and shall not have business relationships with the town for which they receive compensation.” An attempt earlier this month to put an amendment to the charter before voters at the June town meeting failed due to a technicality.

Before hearing testimony April 27 on Farley’s qualifications, the board heard comments from Fogel and reviewed Duke’s case.

Chapman opened the meeting by stating that rumors had been circulating in regard to Town Manager Robert Peabody’s status. Chapman said Peabody is working under a contract that will end June 30 and that Peabody’s upcoming contract is under review by Town Attorney William Plouffe to ensure it is in line with the charter.

In her remarks, Fogel praised both Duke and Farley for their service on the board and on town committees, and said she had not made a decision about the conflict of interest issue in either case.

Turning to the purpose of the hearing, Chapman said the board would review Duke and Farley’s qualifications individually and vote separately on whether to affirm them as members of the board. He said the reduced size of the sitting board would mean that only a unanimous vote would count.

He said the board could not take action on any finding that said either member was in forfeiture of his office. The first of the two hearings pertained to Duke’s status.

While he complimented Duke for his service to the town, Gordon Best said his service on the charter commission meant that Duke knew the qualifications for office and knew he was in violation by bidding on flooring work at the Rockport Opera House.

“You made a promise to all the citizens in this town that you would honor this document,” Best said to the board. Referring to a March 28 e-mail message from Duke to the other board members, Best said Duke knew he was in violation at that time.

Best also questioned whether Duke had either acted alone or called an unauthorized meeting when he directed Peabody to advertise the April 20 hearing on a proposed amendment that would have altered the charter to allow bid contracts between the town and its Select Board members.

Chapman said these issues did not address the matter at hand.

In other testimony, former Select Board Chairman Robert Nichols offered as evidence bid documents and receipts that described the business dealings between the town and Duke’s business, Floor Magic & Tile.

Chris Shrum pointed out that the original charter passed by a vote of 1,006 to 181.

“If an 85 percent vote is not a mandate, I don’t know what is,” Shrum said.

Paul Charbonneau said he thought the only thing Duke was guilty of was naivete.

“What needs to happen now is for the board to make whatever finding it needs to make and to go forward from this and be the wiser for it,” Charbonneau said.

Following the public comments, Duke spoke. He said the charter was an excellent document, but it was flawed.

Duke said he had only done one job for the town since joining the Select Board and that a search for definitions proved that his dealings with the town did not constitute a business relationship.

“Business relationship is defined as a ‘formal contractual relationship to provide regular business services,'” he said.

In the end, the board agreed with Duke, voting unanimously on a motion by Landrith to “affirm Bob Duke as a qualified Select Board member and not in violation of the town charter.”

The first resident to speak at Farley’s hearing was Steve Smith, who said he admired both Farley and Duke.

“Two years ago we had to write in a name because no one was running for Select Board,” Smith said. “I think Farley and Duke should be thanked rather than challenged.”

Margaret Carleton said the subject of the hearing reminded her of the national debate on illegal immigration, because good people were involved.

“The board does need to understand and live by the regulations as they are stipulated,” Carleton said. She said exceptions should not be made just because the community knows and likes a person.

Nichols presented documents showing that Farley & Son had received $109,000 for work done while Farley served on the board. Nichols said he had voted for both Duke and Farley, but the board needed to read the charter and base its decision on that document and not on whether members liked or didn’t like either man.

David Farley, Tom Farley’s father and the president of Farley & Son, said he makes all the company decisions on bids and contracts. Lisa Farley, Tom Farley’s wife, also spoke up, asking if a decision against her husband would mean that no company employee would be qualified to serve on the Select Board.

Following the public testimony, Tom Farley stood at the lectern and said he never represented Farley & Son in his actions on either the Planning Board or the Select Board.

“What I represent is fiscal responsibility and value for the taxpayer,” he said. “I do not receive compensation directly in my pocket for any work done for the town.” He said all decisions go through the board as a whole.

Landrith made a motion to “affirm Tom Farley as a qualified Select Board member and not in violation of the town charter.” Landrith said Farley did not enter into board discussions of contracts related to Farley & Son and Fogel pointed out that the company had been doing business with the town on and off for more than two decades.

Chapman reminded the board that the issue at hand was whether Farley was “currently in violation of the charter” and asked if he negotiated contracts or signed bids for Farley & Son.

Farley replied that he is vice president of the corporation and did not negotiate contracts with the town. Farley’s signature does appear on bid documents.

Chapman raised the issue of the position in which such relationships place employees.

Both Landrith and Fogel voted for the motion, with Chapman opposed.

“Effectively both [Duke and Farley] have been retained as members of the Select Board by our action,” Chapman said.

The meeting was adjourned, and as the audience of about 50 people rose to leave, Chapman said, “I hope you continue to show this kind of interest in town government.”

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at sauciello@villagesoup.com.