Perhaps my own feelings of what a conflict should be raises the bar to a unrealistically high level, but I believe a conflict occurs when a person has a duty to promote one interest but elects to promote a competing interest instead. In short, a conflict of interest exists whenever an official chooses to promote an interest in competition with the organization of which he or she is an official. It represents a potential incentive for bias. This is not considered a conflict as it relates to our town?s officials as long as it does not involve the potential for financial gain. This also applied to me when I was on the budget committee and the planning board, and I agree with it.
However, lack of disclosure is an entirely different matter. By not disclosing competing interests, a person acting in a representative capacity is playing with a hidden agenda whether intended or not. Again, when I was on the budget committee, I concurrently was a member of the Red Cross board of directors and that of the North Conway Community Center. Several members were on many other boards. We always disclosed this before making our arguments and making our recommendations. There were no hidden agendas. The problem with an undisclosed conflict of interest is that two parties to a transaction may both believe their interests are being promoted, when at least one of them is wrong. This is a matter of great concern at present in business organizations, most of which have now adopted strict conflict policies including full disclosure. Such policies around disclosure should also be of concern to nonprofit organizations and to public officials. They should not be immune in my view.