By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington’s continued role in the deliberations on the Laconia State School project may run afoul of the state ethics rules for executive branch officials, but she says that is not the case.
Warmington, the council’s lone Democrat who represents District 2, continues to have a voice on the proposal to sell the Laconia State School property to Manchester-based developer Robynne Alexander.
Last week she successfully moved to table the proposal at the council’s meeting in order to give more time for vetting the project after Laconia officials raised concerns about Alexander’s track record as a developer, a day after the New Hampshire Bulletin published a detailed story about a lawsuit brought against Alexander in a Manchester project.
Warmington, however, may have a financial stake in court case involving Alexander. Warmington is married to attorney William Christie, a partner at Shaheen and Gordon, the law firm representing the woman suing Alexander over the other development.
Donnie Spencer, Warmington’s district director, said she was out of the country Tuesday on vacation.
“Before the last meeting she spoke with the Attorney General’s Office and determined there was no conflict,” Spencer said, adding he didn’t know who she spoke with there.
“From what she told me she consulted the Attorney General’s Office and determined there was no conflict of interest,” Spencer said.
He said Warmington has given up her shareholder status at Shaheen and Gordon, is of counsel at the firm and is not currently practicing.
The Attorney General’s Office told InDepthNH.org that in general executive councilors are bound by the same ethics rules imposed on all executive branch officials and employees. Among those rules are required financial disclosure filings and a straightforward prohibition against any conflict of interest:
“Executive branch officials and classified employees shall avoid conflicts of interest. Executive branch officials and classified employees shall not participate in any matter in which they, or their spouse or dependents, have a private interest which may directly or indirectly affect or influence the performance of their duties.”
As a partner in Shaheen and Gordon, Christie has a financial stake in the firm’s cases. Warmington is listed on the firm’s website as counsel to the firm and a former partner.
She has told other members of the executive council that she has no personal stake in the firm, according to District 1 Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, a Republican.
Kenney, whose district includes Laconia, is not sure if there is a conflict-of-interest problem with Warmington’s continued deliberation on the project. He is not versed on Warmington’s personal finances, he said, but took her at her word that she is no longer benefiting from the firm.
“I’m not aware of the (financial) relationship other than what she said at the (recent) breakfast meeting,” Kenney said. “That she left the law firm and dropped her financial interests.”
In the financial disclosure forms required by law that Warmington signed in January and again in June as a candidate, she listed Shaheen and Gordon firm as providing in excess of $10,000 in income in the preceding calendar year.
It is unclear from the form if she or her husband derived the income, but his name is not mentioned on it.
The form says to list the name, address and type of any profession, business, or other organization in which you or a family member was an officer, director, associate, partner, proprietor, or employee, or served in any other professional or advisory capacity, and from which any income in excess of $10,000 was derived during the preceding calendar year.
A representative for Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday declined to comment on the issue.
Alexander is offering to buy the 200-plus acre property that includes 30 buildings, most of them dilapidated, from the state for $21.5 million. Her proposal would develop the property into housing with 1,900 units, a hotel and conference center, retail and commercial space, a dog park, and a pharmacy.
Alexander did not respond to a request for comment.
Alexander claims to have investors lined up for the development which is estimated to cost $500 million. She is currently being sued by a New Hampshire woman who invested in her “Signature on Elm” project.
The 60,000-square-foot residential and commercial development on Elm Street in Manchester is reportedly now three years behind schedule. Marie Ward, who invested $150,000 in the Signature on Elm, is suing Alexander for breach of contract. Ward is being represented by lawyers with Shaheen and Gordon.
Getting details of Alexander’s application and the three others that weren’t selected is impossible.
Administrative Services Commissioner Charles Arlinghaus responded to a request from InDepthNH.org seeking details about the application and who the financial backers are saying they are confidential until after the governor and executive council approves the contract.
“The offers, like most competitive processes would fall under the confidentiality requirements of RSA 21-G which, as you know, prohibits us from publicizing information prior to adoption by Governor and Council – a prohibition, as I understand it, to protect the integrity of the competitive process,” Arlinghaus said in an email.
InDepthNH.org’s Nancy West contributed to this report.