August 10, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — To Anne Fenwick-Beinema, environmental concerns, especially exposure to chemicals, is a major unaddressed health issue. So she's trying to do something about it by getting on the Board of Health.
"I can connect disease and chemicals, but I don't think the average person knows [that relationship]," she said. With a resume of more than 30 years as a registered nurse, she said she has seen many illnesses she feels are linked to various kinds of toxins, many of which are in everyday use.
"Daily life is loaded with chemicals — and people are worried about lead paint?" she observed.
To some, however, her quest for a seat is a problem, since Beinema is also a signatory to the ongoing lawsuit against the board over last year's Casella decision.
"We were concerned about the appearance of suing us and being on the same board you're suing," observed Town Manager Christopher Clark. He recently recommended Beinema for the seat vacated by Judy Zaido at the end of June, after interviewing her and Robert Checkosky. (A third person, Anne Chenier, submitted a letter more than a week after Checkosky's interview, but by then he had already chosen, Clark said.)
"She's a good match" with her nursing background at Harrington, most of it in the operating room, which was similar to Zaido's, Clark said. He also found Checkosky "certainly qualified," and was considering nominating both of them if Rinaldo Bernardone had been elected to the Town Council or not reappointed to the health board, he added.
Beinema's appointment, however, was put on hold pending her receipt of an Ethics Commission opinion and a letter formally separating her from the lawsuit. The former became available last week and was circulated at Thursday's Education and Human Services subcommittee meeting; Beinema is still awaiting the latter.
Regarding the lawsuit, the relevant part of her Ethics Commission letter discusses the fact Mass. General Law, chapter 268A, prohibits using "her official positions to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions of substantial value ($50 or more) for herself or others," Staff Counsel Lauren Duca wrote. "Section 23(b)(2) will prohibit you from using your Board of Health position to obtain special benefits for yourself or the plaintiffs in the lawsuit."
Duca observed that the law requires employees to avoid giving "a reasonable basis for the impression" they can be "improperly influence[d]." For that reason she told Beinema to file a written disclosure of her "private relationship with the lawsuit and the individuals associated with it."
"If, after having filed a written disclosure, you choose to participate in a matter which affects the landfill, its site assignment or the lawsuit … you should take care under Section 23 to base any such decisions on the merits, using objective standards and following all requisite procedures," Duca wrote.
To some EHS members, however, the letter sparked concerns about her husband, Larry. They asked her to get another opinion regarding his potential influence, since he's also a lawsuit signatory and was even more directly involved in the Casella issue as one of the interveners in the site assignment hearings.
Clark noted he had not really considered that aspect of it when he originally asked Beinema to get and ethics letter, and advised, "Not only should you look at yourself, you should look at your husband."
"My point of view is that [EHS chairman] Mrs. [Denise] Clemence doesn't have a clue about what the Ethics Commission said," Beinema said. "As long as I make a full disclosure, there's no problem."
Beinema noted she and Larry have their own opinions on various issues, but she did call Duca again Monday.
To her, the fact EHS recommended appointing David Manna as a citizen member should raise the same kind of red flag. Although he's married to Clemence's cousin, Monique (who is also quite active in town affairs), Clemence did not mention the relationship at the time.
Clemence could not be reached for comment Monday evening.
Gus Steeves can be reached at 508-909-4135 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.