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Canton selectmen interview candidates for conservation agent

Posted by Dave Eisenstadter  February 27, 2013 05:10 PM

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Three months after terminating the contract of 22-year conservation agent Robert J. Murphy, Canton selectmen interviewed candidates for his replacement.

The candidates were 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.

Although selectmen declined to discuss the reasoning behind Murphy’s termination, minutes from a Conservation Commission meeting indicate Murphy had an involvement with an engineering firm that constituted a conflict of interest.

The Boston Globe has reported that corporate records show Murphy was president of an engineering firm that obtained construction permits from the Conservation Commission, and that other commission members were unaware of his ties to the company.

By e-mail, Murphy declined to comment about the termination. The Globe quoted him as saying, "I didn't break the law.''

Selectmen informed candidates the position would be just over half time.

There were 13 candidates that applied and six that were interviewed by a search committee, according to Canton Human Resources Administrator Jody Middleton.

“We are bringing in three of them and all are qualified and have unique skills,” Middleton said.

Anderson, born and raised in Norwood, said she was interested in the position as a way to strike out on her own.

She said she would continue to serve as conservation specialist in Needham, but that the Canton job would be her primary responsibility if hired.

Anderson emphasized her background in wildlife, vegetation and soils.

Guiney said her entire professional career has been involved with environmental regulation. She has also worked for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, she said.

Part of her experience was working as a conservation agent in Halifax, a position she held for more than 10 years until the hours were reduced, she said.

“It’s a nice job. Most people you meet are pleasant and it changes all the time; that’s one of the best parts,” she said.

O’Connell was trained as a landscape architect and worked for many years for civil engineering firms doing site planning and wetland delineations.

In response to a question from Selectman John Connolly, O’Connell spoke about some of the customer service aspects of the position.

“People just really don’t understand how the regulations apply and you need to explain to them why the wetlands are important and help them through the process,” O’Connell said. “My feeling is the more information you can give to the people walking in the door, you end up with someone who is an advocate.”

All three candidates were asked if they had ties to firms or businesses that would constitute a conflict of interest, and all three said they did not.

Selectman Gerald Salvatori also asked whether the candidates had experience with a large project like the Plymouth Rubber site reuse, and each described their work with similar projects.

Selectmen will make a decision about the conservation agent position in March, they said.

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