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Dedham, Canton share conservation agent

The conservation agent for the town of Dedham will also be the new conservation agent for Canton.

Cynthia B. O’Connell’s appointment marks the beginning of a new chapter for Canton’s beleaguered Conservation Commission office, which became the focus of controversy after the previous conservation agent, Robert J. Murphy, left in November amid conflict-of-interest allegations.

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O’Connell is tentatively scheduled to start in Canton Wednesday. She will be responsible for administering wetlands regulations, issuing stormwater management permits, and protecting the town’s natural resources.

According to executive session meeting minutes from last fall, members of the Canton Conservation Commission discovered that Murphy was president of M&M Engineering Inc., a firm based in Easton that had submitted plans and permit applications for several residential projects in Canton. The minutes indicated that commission members were concerned Murphy’s apparent dual role could be in violation of the state’s conflict-of-interest law.

The town had employed Murphy as conservation agent under a contract that paid him an annual salary of $48,960, and the Board of Selectmen did not provide any specific reason for terminating his contract. Murphy declined to comment for this story.

Robert E. Burr Jr., chairman of the Canton Board of Selectmen, declined to comment on Murphy’s departure, but said he was happy to have O’Connell take the post.

“We look forward to her employment with the town,” said Burr. “She comes with high recommendations, and she appears to have a real passion for conservation.”

‘She comes with high recommend-ations, and she appears to have a real passion for conservation.’

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Burr said that O’Connell was the top pick of Conservation Commission members who served on the search committee, and she received a unanimous vote of the selectmen.

O’Connell is the first new conservation agent the town has hired in 22 years. She has experience in site planning and wetlands delineations and previously worked as a landscape architect for Beals Associates Inc., a Boston-based land planning firm. Reached by phone at the Conservation Commission office in Dedham last week, she politely declined to answer any questions.

Canton’s office is located at Pequitside Farm, a picturesque town-owned estate on Pleasant Street only 7 miles south of Dedham Town Hall. She will more than double her area of coverage: Dedham has a population of 24,729 and 10.25 square miles of land, while Canton has a population of 21,561 and 18.9 square miles.

Jody Middleton, human resources administrator for the town of Canton, could not provide the terms of O’Connell’s contract because it had not been finalized. Middleton said the Canton Board of Selectmen is scheduled to sign off on O’Connell’s contract Tuesday, and O’Connell will be asked to sign it the next day.

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