Published: 11/22/2021 11:39:35 AM
A group of Rindge residents has filed a complaint with the state’s Office of Professional Licensure and Certification against town Planning Director Kirk Stenersen.
Jeff Dickler, one of the authors of the complaint, said the group’s biggest concern is that Stenersen’s dual role as a private engineer and town employee creates an inherent conflict of interest. Dickler also claimed that Stenersen had not disclosed to the public when he was serving in his role as a planning director advising on plans submitted by a developer that he was actively working with as an engineer on other projects.
“This has been an ongoing issue, and we contend that it’s a pretty dramatic conflict of interest,” Dickler said. “His influence on the Planning Board is quite apparent. That’s I think the principal issue, even when he recuses himself. I’ve contended for a long time that people that do business in Rindge shouldn’t be working for the land-use boards for the city.”
This is not the first time the group has attempted to address the issue. In July, a group of 69 residents submitted a petition for Stenersen’s removal as planning director, asking that he be replaced with “an individual without interests in the building and/or real estate industry in the town.”
At the time, the Planning Board met in non-public session on the issue, but told the residents who submitted the petition that they disagreed with the sentiment.
Stenersen is a part-time planning director for the town, and is in the office one day a week, along with attending monthly Planning Board meetings. He is also a professional engineer and the owner of Higher Design, PLLC. In July, Planning Board members told residents that Stenersen’s expertise was an “asset.” In an interview Monday, Planning Board Chair Jonah Ketola said that sentiment remains.
“It still stands,” Ketola said. “His engineering skills are something you are usually not going to get with a town planning director. It’s a bonus to the town. I feel that’s a serious asset.”
Judy Unger-Clark of Rindge, who presented the July petition calling for Stenersen’s removal, said the board’s dismissal of the petition was a “slap in the face.”
“Our Planning Board, which is supposed to look out for our town’s best interests, chose to ignore Kirk Stenersen’s conflicts. We had hoped to resolve this locally, but obviously that didn’t work out,” Unger-Clark said.
In his role as planning director, Stenersen usually reviews submitted plans for completeness and offers advice to the Planning Board, but does not take any final votes on whether a plan should be accepted or approved or denied.
There have been multiple occasions when Stenersen has recused himself from his role as planning director because he functioned as the engineer designer for a project, and has presented for clients in that capacity. In those cases, the Planning Board chair and vice chair typically review the cases in Stenersen’s stead, and Stenersen does not make recommendations on those cases.
“He gets no vote in whatever we do,” Ketola said. “Kirk is there to give feedback, but we have seven voting members. He has no vote.”
Also, Ketola noted, none of Stenersen’s recommendations to the board are binding. While the board uses Stenersen’s expertise, they can dismiss any of his recommendations they disagree with, or add any they feel he overlooked.
The Office of Professional Licensure and Certification’s Board of Professional Engineers maintains the ethical and professional standards for the state’s licensed engineers. The complaint filed with the board alleges Stenersen failed to notify the Planning Board and public of financial ties to a developer and requested the Planning Board waive regulations for his clients.
Stenersen has 30 days to respond to the complaint.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or email@example.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.