County Manager Choice Quit Law Practice After Facing Fund Allegations

By ALEXIS TONTI

Three days before the new Dukes County manager will sign his contract, news surfaced that he gave up his license to practice law amid allegations of professional misconduct.

The county commissioners said yesterday they had learned about the incident several months ago, when E. Winn Davis, the executive secretary of the town of Hanson, was first named as a finalist for the position.

"As far as I'm concerned the case is closed," said commission chairman John Alley. "It was settled 11 years ago, and I don't think that plays a part in our deliberations in the matter."

In 1992, after more than 10 years as an attorney, Mr. Davis voluntarily gave up his license to practice law rather than face an investigation by the state Board of Bar Overseers. A client had filed a complaint with the board about missing funds; the $15,000 that was in dispute was later returned to that client.

The commissioners never discussed this part of the candidate's background in open session.

They offered Mr. Davis the job last Thursday after a second interview during which they reviewed his credentials and questioned him about his experience and commitment to the Island. Mr. Davis accepted the job subject to negotiation, and is expected to sign a contract this Thursday.

Mr. Davis earned his law degree from Boston University School of Law in 1979, and was in private practice in Falmouth for 10 years beginning in 1982.

An article about the allegations appeared in the Boston Globe in November of last year.

Mr. Alley said that prior to the May interviews, when the commissioners met with both Mr. Davis and Laurie Perry, they had received a newspaper article about Mr. Davis's professional history. He said there had been some initial discussion about the incident, and that Mr. Davis had offered several times to discuss it. The commissioners chose not to ask any more questions, he added.

Commissioner Roger Wey also said that part of Mr. Davis's background did not factor into the decision. "People have difficulties and they have issues in their lives," Mr. Wey said. "It was many years ago. Mr. Davis has been working since then and he has excellent credentials."

He added: "This is just a bump, and we'll get over it and move on."

In a conversation with the Gazette yesterday, Mr. Davis would not comment, saying only that it came up in executive session. He added that the incident was irrelevant.

Mr. Davis also spoke yesterday about his family and his early education; about his personal interests and career.

His wife, Linda, teaches science in a Barnstable high school; his daughter, Elizabeth, begins her junior year at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., this fall. They are gardeners and travelers, most recently to Canada but formerly, when Mrs. Davis studied in Scotland, to the United Kingdom.

Other than two years at KI Sawyer Air Force Base in Michigan, Mr. Davis has lived on the south shore his entire life. Although he studied philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire, he realized when he was in the service that "there aren't too many job offerings for philosopher kings, so I decided to look for something a little more practical."

His administrative work in the air force led him to seek a master of public administration degree, which he was awarded from Northeastern University in 1975. He was graduated from Harvard Graduate School of Design with a master of city planning degree in 1976.

Mr. Davis's record of municipal service includes three years as a senior regional planner to Franklin, Norfolk and Wrentham, followed by three years as the assistant town manager of Provincetown.

Looking ahead, Mr. Davis said he will commute to the Island for at least the next two years. He cannot relocate until he finishes paying his daughter's college education.

"I like the diversity of the towns, and how each offers its different personality," said Mr. Davis, who has visited the Island since the early seventies. He said he wanted the increased responsibilities of a chief executive official and found the shared interests of the county and the municipalities intriguing.

Mr. Davis describes himself as a consensus builder and envisions his first six weeks on the job as a time for assessment.He plans to sit with the commissioners individually to discuss their goals for the next year. He also wants to meet with all county employees, town selectmen and town administrators.

"The major benefit Dukes County has is that all the towns have a shared commonality of interest," he said. "Fluctuation of tourism, seasonality of unemployment, to name a few - and it's such a physically small area. It's easy for the county to be efficient and responsive.

"For those who are frustrated by county government, they need to realize that the alternative is sometimes simply a repackaged form of government. There they've changed the name but not the responsibilities.

"As long as we can be responsive and efficient, there's no need to change or eliminate the county government," he said. "We need to be able to deal with regional issues."

Mr. Davis has experience rebuilding public trust and fractured government: He came to the position in Hanson after the former executive secretary had been indicted for secretly buying town land, in a scandal that also involved the former conservation commission chairman and other town officials.

"We've worked hard [in Hanson] to bring back that faith in government, and to get everything out in the public eye," Mr. Davis said. "If it's out there and it's not hidden, people are more likely to believe it."