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GROTON — In a surprise development, a well-known public figure resigned as a member of a half dozen of the town’s boards and committees.

Steven Webber, whose most high-profile position was that of chairman of the Finance Committee, announced his resignation in a letter submitted to the town clerk.

In the letter, Webber cited a conflict of interest as the reason for his decision.

“My ability to remain unbiased in my dealings with the town has been challenged by Stuart Shuman and Mike Flynn, both members of the Finance Committee,” read the letter. “Due to this concern, I have contacted the state ethics board for a ruling and/or advice. They have, in turn, asked for a detailed description of all dealings I have had with the town, which boards and committees I have been and (am) currently on, and the history of both the Gibbet Hill transaction and the Station Avenue proposal.

“Since it will take me a while to collect this information and even longer for that board to rule, in a desire to remain as completely fair and honest as I can be, I am hereby officially resigning from all town boards and committees on which I am currently serving,” the letter reads.

Responding to Webber’s comment, Shuman said, “My concern was that there was an appearance of a conflict of interest. There was a perception in town that there may have been a conflict of interest.”

The issue had come to his attention in his dealings around town, said Shuman, and he thought he had to bring the issue to the attention of the Finance Committee.

“It had nothing to do with (Webber’s) performance or conduct on the committee,” Shuman.

Webber then listed the groups from which he has resigned. Beyond the Finance Committee, they include the Town Government Study Committee, the Computer Committee, the Web site Committee and the GIS Steering Committee.

Among the dealings that could present a conflict of interest with the town for Webber is a bid by his family’s Beaudane Properties to develop Station Avenue as a retail/residential extension of the downtown.

Although that issue was settled on Feb. 2 when members of the Board of Selectmen and the Groton Electric Light Board of Commissioners voted to accept a rival plan submitted by Capstone Properties, that decision was made after Webber submitted his letter.

Also on Webber’s plate is his membership in the Groton Community Foundation, a private group working to raise money for the construction of a new community center in place of the town’s existing senior center. The group proposed the use of town-owned land as the site of a future community center at a recent meeting with selectmen.

As a prominent and public-spirited citizen, Webber has also been involved in land donations to the town as well as the development of the family-owned Gibbet Hill Grill and barn off Route 40.

“Steve has contributed greatly to the community,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Fran Dillon. “He was very active and has given freely to the town of his time and effort. He’s doing exactly what he should be doing, getting the opinion of the state.”

“He’s being very careful about it,” said Selectman Peter Cunningham. “It’s a big loss in a town that depends on volunteers.”

Of Webber’s many commitments, it may be his role on the Finance Committee that will be missed the most. With the start of the new year, the committee’s work on the town’s operating budget for fiscal year 2007 has begun. Its goal is to reconcile Groton’s growing needs with a relatively flat revenue stream and little help expected from the state.

“We’ll do fine, but we’ll miss his expertise in a variety of fields,” said committee Chairman Georgiana Cochran. “I personally found him so professional and competent that I think it will be a challenge for all of us on the committee to make up for his loss. It will take several of us to do on our own what he was able to do by himself.”

With members of the committee needing to be appointed, it is up to the selectmen to accept applications and choose a replacement. Cochran said she is confident this would take place soon.

“Steve had been a member of the Finance Committee longer than I was, and I always valued his guidance with regard to the variety of challenges that faced us when working out a budget,” said Cochran. “It’s always a balancing act, and this being an especially difficult year, we would have appreciated his input regarding priorities.”

Webber’s resignation was effective immediately. As of the committee’s Jan. 31 meeting, Cochran had already taken over as chairman.

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