Citizens question conflict of interest on town road work

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — One resident was pretty steamed when he saw the father of the Naples town manager operating heavy equipment — doing the ditch work on Edes Falls Road.

The equipment was owned by another contractor. But, what most upset the person who saw this was the fact that it had been publicly promised that Earth Solutions, owned by Rick Paraschak, would no longer get work from the Town of Naples. That statement was made sometime after Rick’s son, Ephrem, became town manager.

The person, who wished to remain anonymous, brought his concerns to Jim Turpin, a Naples Budget Committee member.

“He said, ‘I thought you said Rick Paraschak wasn’t going to get any work from the town.’ He told me that the truck had Chris Pond’s company name on it,” Turpin said.

“If Rick Paraschak is seen behind the wheel of a machine on a town project, people will ask questions,” Turpin said.

The ditch work job, which took place in early July, was discussed briefly during a Naples Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday. During Public Participation time, Turpin asked on behalf of the unnamed Naples resident if Rick Paraschak had been paid for the job. Turpin also asked how the project was budgeted and why the job did not go out to bid.

Naples Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said, “There are no funds going to Earth Solutions.”

He explained that smaller jobs — costing less than $10,000 are not required to go through the bidding process. The town staff solicits area contractors, asking for competitive prices. The ditching job on Cooks Mills and Edes Fall Road was about $7,000, Ephrem said. The project was given to C. Pond Plowing and the work has been finished in preparation for paving in August, he said.

Chairman Bob Caron II explained that Ephrem also acts as the Naples road commissioner, and there are policies in place dictating how he goes about soliciting work for town-owned roads.

On Tuesday morning, Rick Paraschak explained why he had been operating the equipment that was being used for a town job.

“I occasionally help Chris Pond and Chris Pond helps me. When I work for Chris, he doesn’t pay me and in return he works for me and I don’t pay him,” Rick said. “There is no money exchanged. It is kind of like a barter thing.”

“That project was given to Chris Pond, or C. Pond Plowing. Chris asked me to help him because he was shorthanded,” he said.

“No money exchanged hands,” Rick said, confirming that he did not get a single cent from the town job.

“Chris Pond helps me, and he gets repaid by me helping him. We do that back and forth,” he said.

Rick Paraschak added that his own business receives plenty of work.

“Obviously, someone is saying there is collusion between my son and myself.

There is none,” Rick said.

The word collusion means “a secret agreement, especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes; a conspiracy,” according to dictionary.com.

“Earth Solutions has not done work for the town for more than two years,” Rick said.

“People think there is some collusion going on. They’re wrong,” Rick said.

“My son, in his position, tries to be fair with local contractors, some of which do not call him back. He has work to be done,” he said.

According to Ephrem, the public outcry by a few people could have been predicted.

“I almost expected as soon as he (Chris Pond) parked his excavator at the end of my driveway, that people would comment,” Ephrem said. “In all honesty, I thought it might cause a problem with some residents.”

He explained that Rick filled in for Pond because Pond, who is the Naples Fire Chief, was battling a fire on an island on Sebago Lake. That same week, Pond had a deadline to finish the ditch work.

“He needed to get it done,” Ephrem said.

“In the future, Rick won’t be able to help out Chris. It is unfortunate because people find issue with it. I have gotten complaints before when he donated his time at the maintenance building” off Route 11, he said.

There are no policies prohibiting the town from giving paid work to an employee like the fire chief.

“There is no conflict of interest. He is doing it as a contractor, offering a competitive price,” Ephrem said, adding that he tries to rotate the use of contractor in the area.

However, during the road construction season, it becomes difficult to get small jobs done on short notice. Many contractors never returned his phone calls, Ephrem said.

“I believe you can be an employee of the town and get work that the town pays for. You cannot give yourself the business,” he said.

“A conflict of interest is defined as a monetary conflict of interest. If you directly benefit financially from it or if a family member does — that is conflict of interest,” Ephrem said.

This is not the first time that Naples residents have shared with Turpin their concerns about what they perceive as a conflict of interest.

“Basically, local contractors asked about it when Earth Solutions was doing work for the town on the books,” Turpin said.

“The individual I talked to claimed he called the town to ask if jobs were available. He was told that he need not apply,” he said.

During Monday’s meeting, Ephrem said that contractors must prove that they have done jobs for municipalities. Soliciting work is a much faster way to get short-term projects done than going through the referral for bids (RFP) process.

According to Turpin, Naples residents have concerns about fairness when jobs are contracted out instead of being publically advertised and bidded out.

“Folks born in this town or who have lived here for decades have more clout in how the town is run. That is understood. Townies are entitled to more clout. But clarity is in order,” Turpin said.

“As a nation, we have lost expectations of clarity in Washington, D.C, and in Augusta. But in our town, where we still have town meetings, an expectation of clarity is part of the quality of place,” he said.

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