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Canton’s ex-conservation agent defends work with town

Former Canton conservation agent Robert J. Murphy, whose companies’ relationship with the town is under review by the state Ethics Commission, says he isn’t sure what prompted some members of the local Conservation Commission to call for his resignation last fall and insists that he did nothing wrong.

The Ethics Commission is looking into Murphy’s ties to M&M Engineering Inc., a firm he leads that was involved in several projects in Canton, and Danena Inc., a consulting and engineering firm contracted by the town to provide Murphy’s services as conservation agent.

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In an interview with the Globe Wednesday, Murphy talked about his work history with the Conservation Commission and his sudden departure in November from the job he held for 22 years.

“They wanted me gone and I don’t know why,” he said over lunch at a Stoughton restaurant. “The people that know me don’t believe it. They don’t think I did anything wrong.”

According to Conservation Commission executive session minutes obtained by the Globe, questions about Murphy’s service contract first came up last fall when commission members discovered that Murphy was president of M&M Engineering. The minutes indicate that some members were concerned that Murphy’s dual role could be in violation of the state’s conflict-of-interest law.

However, Murphy said in the interview that it was an “open secret” that he owned M&M, as well as Danena Inc., when he served as the conservation agent for Canton.

Corporation records show that M&M Engineering was incorporated in Delaware in April 2011, and Murphy is listed as its president. A Globe review of town records had found that a number of M&M Engineering projects in Canton were approved by the Conservation Commission while Murphy was the town’s conservation agent. In that role, Murphy worked for the Conservation Commission and often reviewed plans and applications for adherence to regulations.

But Murphy asserts he never gained financially from M&M projects, and that he “gave away” the work to friends like James E. Miller, who worked as Stoughton’s town engineer until he resigned in 2008. Miller prepared M&M’s applications for permits from Canton.

Murphy said that he worked for the town of Canton as a consultant under a contract between his company, Danena Inc., and the town. He said the terms of his contract allowed him to work for the town while running his own business.

In the 22 years that he worked for Canton, Murphy said he never received any complaints about his work or conduct on the job, and he went out of his way to assist people with their plans.

His most recent contract with Canton was to run from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2014. The contract called for him to provide services that a conservation agent typically would do, such as participate and provide support at Conservation Commission meetings, make recommendations to the Conservation Commission on matters involving wetland protection, and provide telephone consultation and site evaluation.

The contract also states that “Robert Murphy is a principal in Danena Inc., a company that does civil engineering and MGL, Chapter 268A, Section 17 [of the state’s conflict of interest law] will prevent Mr. Murphy from acting as an agent for any party other than the town in which the town has a direct and substantial interest. Therefore Mr. Murphy will not personally act as an agent for a third party.”

Murphy said he never violated the terms of the contract.

Soon after some members of the Conservation Commission raised questions about Murphy’s connections to M&M in executive session, anonymous letters began to circulate around town accusing Murphy of personally benefiting from his role as conservation agent.

Murphy contends that he ultimately decided to terminate his contract with the town. Murphy said he sent a letter to town officials on Nov. 27 stating that the town’s contract with Danena Inc. had effectively ended on Nov. 15.

The town of Canton has hired a new conservation agent, Cynthia B. O’Connell, who started the job in April. She also works as the conservation agent for the town of Dedham.

Canton Town Administrator William T. Friel did not return a phone call seeking comment. Conservation Commission chairwoman Debra Sundin also did not respond to a call Wednesday for comment.

Meanwhile, Murphy said, he is waiting to hear from the Ethics Commission.

In July, the Ethics Commission began a “preliminary inquiry” and issued a summons for the town of Canton to produce any records from Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2012, that detail Murphy’s relationship with M&M Engineering and Danena.

If the five appointed members of the commission believe the conflict-of-interest law may have been violated, a public hearing will be held and then the commissioners will decide whether there was a violation of the conflict law and what penalties, if any, will be assessed.

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