For the first time in 22 years, the town of Canton is looking to hire a new conservation agent, after the man who previously held the post, Robert J. Murphy, left in November amid conflict-of-interest allegations.
Thirteen candidates applied for the position, and six have been interviewed by a search committee. The Canton Board of Selectmen interviewed three finalists last week, and is expected to announce its choice for the new conservation agent this month.
The new hire will offer a fresh start for the town’s Conservation Commission office, which is charged with protecting Canton’s natural resources, administering wetlands regulations, and issuing stormwater management permits. The town employed Murphy as conservation agent for 22 years, under a contract that paid him an annual salary of $48,960.
According to executive session meeting minutes obtained by the Globe, commission members discovered that Murphy was president of M&M Engineering Inc., a firm based in Easton that had submitted plans and permit applications for several residential projects in Canton. Those meeting minutes from last fall indicated that commission members were concerned Murphy’s apparent dual role could be in violation of the state’s conflict-of-interest law. Soon after that, the town terminated its contract with Murphy.
Corporation records show that M&M Engineering was incorporated in Delaware in April 2011, and Murphy is listed as the president and lone officer of the firm. Murphy is also listed as M&M’s president on annual franchise tax reports filed in January 2012 and 2013.
The town has not stated why it cut ties with Murphy. Robert E. Burr Jr., chairman of the Board of Selectmen, has said Murphy “wasn’t fired,” and that his contract was terminated “without cause.”
Murphy has repeatedly declined to comment on his exit, his connection to M&M, or any discussions during executive sessions of the Conservation Commission.
In an e-mail to the Globe last month, Murphy said: “Thank you again for the opportunity to respond to the accusations against me. As you are aware these public accusations refer to two Executive Sessions, which have not been made public. The minutes of these meetings have not been released nor have the participants been released from the confidentiality required by the law. I have made mistakes in my career but have never knowingly broken the law and do not intend to do so now.”
Later, in a brief telephone call to the Globe last month, Murphy said: “I didn’t break the law.”
For now, selectmen are concentrating on choosing Murphy’s successor. Last week, they interviewed Debora Anderson, who serves as a conservation specialist in Needham; Mary Guiney, a former conservation agent in Halifax and Hanson; and Cynthia O’Connell, the conservation agent in Dedham.
During their interviews, selectmen asked all three candidates whether they had ties to businesses that might constitute a conflict of interest.
All three said they did not.