Conflict of interest question posed to Carbondale mayoral contenders
CARBONDALE – Carbondale mayoral candidate Ed Cortez says his recent vote in favor of revisions to the town’s energy efficient building code doesn’t pose a conflict of interest, even though he’s in the business of installing solar photovoltaic systems.
The revised code, which passed on a 4-3 vote at the Town Board’s Feb. 16 meeting, with Cortez being one of those in favor, requires new houses larger than 3,000 square feet to include PV systems.
New houses of between 3,000 and 4,999 square feet must include 2.7 kilowatts of PV. Houses 5,000 square feet and larger must have even more solar capacity, and up to 20 kilowatts of PV for houses over 10,000 square feet.
“It’s something I’ve always advocated for, because I think it’s important for the future of Carbondale,” Cortez said at a March 19 candidates forum when the general question of conflicts of interest came up.
Cortez, who as a general construction contractor does solar and other renewable energy installations through his new business, El Sol Solar, said he doesn’t view his vote on the energy code as a conflict of interest.
“For someone to say that it might be a conflict, I think that’s incorrect,” Cortez said. “If I thought I had a direct conflict with a particular project, I would recuse myself.”
His opponent in the April 6 Carbondale mayoral election, fellow Trustee Stacey Patch Bernot voted against the code revisions, and called on Cortez to abstain from the vote. She, along with trustees Pam Zentmyer and John Foulkrod, questioned the mandatory provision of requiring home builders to install PV systems.
Responding herself to the question about conflicts of interest, Bernot pointed out that she did abstain from a recent vote by the Carbondale town board to endorse the efforts of the Thompson Divide Coalition to prevent or limit natural gas development west of Carbondale.
“My family does have some mineral rights in that area, which is why I abstained,” she said.
“In a small town, the perception about conflicts is a crooked line,” Bernot said. “I feel that, if someone has even the slightest inclination that they might have a conflict, we need to address it. I think the board can do a better job of disclosing these things.”
She said she doesn’t foresee herself having a conflict of interest on any other future issues, other than the mineral rights.
Cortez said if a potential conflict ever does come up, there are certain procedures in place to deal with it.
He and Bernot, both members of the Carbondale Town Board as trustees for the past six years, are running to replace outgoing mayor Michael Hassig, who is up against term limits and cannot run for re-election.
Three candidates, incumbent trustees John Foulkrod and Frosty Merriott, and newcomer Elizabeth Murphy, are running unopposed for three trustee seats in the April 6 election.
The March 18 candidates forum is being rebroadcast on community access Cable Channel 12 at noon, 2 p.m., 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and midnight on Friday and again March 31.
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