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Ethics questioned on two-town sewer deal Friday, September 5, 2003
D. Craig MacCormack Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - A longtime former Planning Board member last night accused selectmen Chairman Charles Sisitsky of violating the board's policy on ethical conduct by sitting in on talks on a proposed land deal with Natick.

Sue Bernstein, who was voted out in April after 12 years on the Planning Board, said the policy states any elected or appointed official must leave the room when the topic could lead to a potential conflict.

Sisitsky, who was not at last night's meeting, is public works director in Natick.  He recused himself from all discussions about the Morency Woods deal, but that isn't enough, said Bernstein.

"He continued to sit here at the table, she said.  He continued to run the meeting.  It seems that you, as a board so interested in ethical conduct, would set an example yourselves.

"You can see how easy it is to overlook certain provisions, said Bernstein.

Selectmen adopted the ethical conduct policy in March.  An ethics seminar for all town officials is slated for October, said Town Manager George King.  Bernstein was fined $2,000 in February by the State Ethics Commission after she attempted to secure a zoning change for a real estate client.  She appeared before selectmen on Dec. 6, 2001, asking them to include her client's property change of zoning request at the next scheduled Town Meeting.

That action amounted to violating a section of the Conflict of Interest law because Bernstein, who as Planning Board member was considered a municipal employee, acted on behalf of her client and not the town.

Two articles on the Morency Woods tract are on the Oct. 7 Town Meeting warrant, one sponsored by selectmen asking that most of the land be used as open space, with four houses built there.

Sisitsky has routinely kept quiet during conversations about the status of a memorandum of understanding with Natick, a document that could be ready by the board's Sept. 18 meeting, said Town Counsel Chris Petrini.

If the memorandum is not approved by both towns by then, it is likely to be withdrawn from Town Meeting consideration.  In the spring, Town Meeting sent a similar proposal back to the sponsor because no memorandum was in place.

Another article, sponsored by the Conservation Commission and former member Leslee Willetts, asks Town Meeting to keep all 14.5 acres as recreation land.  Some believe an amendment asking to sell the parcel will be introduced on Town Meeting floor.

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