Residents accuse Hampstead manager of conflict

August 31, 1994|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,Sun Staff Writer

A handful of Hampstead residents who live near the Black & Decker distribution plant on Route 30 are alleging that the participation of Town Manager John A. Riley, a former plant employee, in negotiations for a water use agreement was a conflict of interest.

Mr. Riley, who has declined to comment on the issue, worked in waste management for Black & Decker Inc. until leaving the company 10 years ago, said Hampstead town attorney Richard C. Murray.

In July, Hampstead signed an agreement with Black & Decker in which the town said it would drop its appeal of a "water appropriation" permit granted to the company last November to help the toolmaker clean up contaminated ground water under its Route 30 facility.

The town initially argued that the permit allowing the company to pump more than Hampstead's total usage of about 300,000 gallons a day could threaten its supply.

In return for dropping the appeal, Black & Decker agreed to monitor neighboring wells and participate in continuing discussions with the town about the cleanup.

Mr. Murray said he, not Mr. Riley, led the town's negotiations with Black & Decker, though the town manager was involved. He said Mr. Riley's participation did not constitute a conflict of interest.

Some residents, who for many months objected to Black & Decker's secrecy about its cleanup plans and then praised the company when it was more forthcoming, turned their criticism to Mr. Riley. However, they have not filed a complaint with the town ethics commission, whose primary job is to run Hampstead's elections.

"As far as I'm concerned, that's a conflict of interest," said Herbert Hewlett, who lives 100 yards from Black & Decker's front gate and is appealing the water appropriation permit. "He [Mr. Riley] should not have been involved in any way because he's a former employee."

"I don't question his integrity," said Murray M. "Mike" Tarlton, who is president of a local homeowners group. "But I kind of wonder if that's a conflict of interest."

Several Hampstead officials have expressed dissatisfaction that the town's agreement with Black & Decker did not include more concessions from the company. But they said it was the best agreement possible and Mr. Riley was not to blame for any of its shortcomings.

"The people of Hampstead could not have had a better person to represent them with Black & Decker than John Riley," Hampstead Councilman Arthur Moler said.

"If they had concerns," Mr. Moler said of residents, "they should have written a letter to the ethics commission expressing it."

Records on file with the regional Environmental Protection Agency office in Philadelphia show that Mr. Riley represented Black & Decker's Hampstead facility before the state on environmental matters during his time there.

But there is no indication in the records that he dealt with the issue of the current ground water contamination there, which is believed to have been caused by leaks from underground storage tanks over decades of use.

Officials with the state ethics commission said any determination of a conflict of interest would have to be made by the town.

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