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Canton

Permit details emerge in conflict probe

An Easton-based firm linked to Canton’s recently dismissed conservation agent applied for Canton permits in at least half a dozen residential projects while he was employed by the town, according to town records.

Robert J. Murphy was ousted from the post he held for 22 years after members of the town’s Conservation Commission discovered he had ties to M&M Engineering, a firm that was involved in several projects around town.

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According to meeting minutes obtained by the Globe, M&M Engineering submitted eight applications to the Conservation Commission over the last two years, and commission members were concerned that Murphy might be gaining financially from projects under their review, in potential violation of the state’s conflict of interest law. The members have said they did not know of Murphy’s ties to M&M when they considered the permit applications, according to the minutes.

A Globe review of Canton town records found that a number of M&M projects were approved by the Conservation Commission while Murphy was working as the town's agent.

When developer Don McNeice sought to develop lots on Bolivar Street, he used the services of M&M Engineering to do so, town records show. On Nov. 23, 2011, McNeice applied for a stormwater management permit for Lot #4 at 431 Bolivar St., and M&M submitted plans for the project. The permit was approved by the Conservation Commission and was issued on Dec. 7, 2011.

In February 2012, McNeice applied for a stormwater permit for Lot #2 at 431 Bolivar St., using plans prepared by M&M Engineering. That permit was also approved by the Conservation Commission and issued March 7, 2012.

M&M Engineering was also involved in McNeice’s proposal to build two single-family Colonial homes on Hillsview Street. M&M submitted stormwater management, erosion, and sediment control plans for the project. McNeice applied for a land disturbance permit for 16 Hillsview St. on Aug. 23, 2012, and the permit was issued Sept. 5, 2012.

‘It’s imperative the town knows the whole story’ about Robert Murphy’s dismissal.

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McNeice also used M&M for a home at 169 Mechanic St. in early 2011. The engineering firm prepared the stormwater management report for that project.

McNeice did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story. He was not the only developer that used M&M Engineering on local projects.

In 2009, M&M submitted plans to the Canton Planning Board for a project at 580 Randolph St. on behalf of Aldo Ruscito. M&M also submitted plans for a single-family home on Old Shepard Street in 2010 on behalf of Jason and William Dickie.

Murphy’s role in M&M remains unclear, but he has admitted to being involved with the company since 2011, according to Conservation Commission meeting minutes. M&M Engineering Inc. was formed on April 7, 2011, according to the state of Delaware’s Division of Corporations.

M&M’s applications for permits from Canton were prepared by James E. Miller, a Seekonk resident who worked as Stoughton’s town engineer until he resigned in 2008.

Reached by phone, Miller said, “I’m sorry, I can’t speak with you,” and hung up.

Murphy has declined to comment about his role as conservation agent and his involvement with M&M. In a recent e-mail to the Globe, he wrote: “As much as I would like to speak on the matter, if only to defend myself, I cannot at this time.”

Murphy’s connection to M&M is apparent on a large map posted inside Canton’s town hall, on a cork bulletin board in the second-floor hallway, across from the Planning Board office. The map shows “Plymouth Landing,” a proposed subdivision at 41 Plymouth St., and the firm that prepared it: M&M Engineering, and underneath the M&M logo is Murphy’s phone number and a link to the website for Murphy’s company, Danena Engineering Associates (www.danenainc.com).

Murphy served as Canton’s conservation agent for 22 years. The town employed Murphy through a contract with Danena, and he was paid an annual salary of $48,960. The town terminated its contract with Danena and Murphy in November, soon after Conservation Commission members began raising questions about his connection to M&M and voicing concerns over a potential conflict of interest. The dismissal was first reported by the Canton Citizen newspaper.

Planning Board member George Jenkins said the allegations against Murphy took him by surprise.

“I was shocked, to say the least,” said Jenkins, who has served on the Planning Board off and on since 1970. “I was surprised as anybody when I heard what the ConCom had found out. I had no idea.”

Jenkins said he knew James Miller from his appearances before the Planning Board for various building projects. He said he “never paid attention” to the title block on the plans for M&M projects. “Nobody questioned who the second ‘M’ was on the plan,” he said.

But Jenkins cautioned that “nothing has been proven” that anyone did anything wrong.

“I’ll say one thing about Bob Murphy — he was very knowledgeable about conservation and protection of wetlands,” said Jenkins. “He was very dedicated to that. How it ties to this, I can’t comment on that. As to his expertise, he was good.”

Jeremy J. Comeau, a member of the Planning Board for 11 years, also expressed concern that Murphy was allegedly working with M&M at the same time he was employed by the town as conservation agent.

“It’s a problem of ethics, and it’s a problem of conflict of interest,” he said. “It creates the appearance that the neighborhood, abutters, and citizens won’t be heard because the developer has someone on both sides of the table.

“If Bob Murphy was making suggestions that were inaccurate, and we didn’t know about it, then I feel really bad for any citizens of town who were impacted negatively” by projects that were approved, he added.

Comeau said “it’s imperative the town knows the whole story” about Murphy’s dismissal. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” he said.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.
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