Docket No. 600

In the Matter of Norman Melanson


Date: December 29, 1999



DISPOSITION AGREEMENT


This Disposition Agreement ("Agreement") is entered into
between the State Ethics Commission ("Commission") and Norman
Melanson ("Melanson") pursuant to Section 5 of the Commission's
Enforcement Procedures. This Agreement constitutes a consented to
final Order enforceable in the Superior Court, pursuant to G.L. c.
268B, s.40).

On February 10, 1999, the Commission initiated, pursuant
to G.L. c. 268B, s.4(a), a preliminary inquiry into possible
violations of the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, by
Melanson. The Commission has concluded its inquiry and, on October
20,1999, found reasonable cause to believe that Melanson violated
G.L. c. 268A.

The Commission and Melanson now agree to the following
findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. At all relevant times, Melanson was a Board of
Assessors ("BOA") member for the City of Leominster. As a BOA
member, Melanson was a municipal employee as that term is defined
in G.L. c. 268A, s. 1(g).

2. The BOA is a three member, full time, compensated
working board. All of the BOA's members are appointed by
the mayor.[1/] The BOA is responsible for the valuation of real
estate for tax purposes.

3. Vision Appraisal Technology ("Vision") is a company
that provides computer software and technical support to
municipalities regarding property assessments. Between 1993 and the
present, Vision has received several contracts from Leominster
totaling in excess of $400,000.[2/] [3/]

4. Melanson, as an assessor, participated in the award of
the above-described Leominster/Vision contracts.

5. Melanson's involvement with Vision contracts included
preparing the contract specifications, submitting them to the
purchasing agent, subsequently reviewing and double-checking the
chief assessor's work to ensure bids met the minimum criteria and
minimum specifications and performing evaluations of the
contractors.

6. In the spring of 1997, Vision installed a new
Windows-based valuation software program into the city assessors'
office's computers. At that point, Melanson's computer experience
was limited, and he had had no experience with the new valuation
software or Windows itself. Consequently, Melanson needed to spend
a considerable amount of time familiarizing himself with the new
software program. To that end, it appears that Vision loaned
Melanson a computer loaded with the program to be used by him at
his home.[4/]

7. Melanson used the computer for both assessor and
personal use.

8. There was no documentation of the loan of the computer
from Vision to Melanson. Melanson did not disclose his possession
of the computer to his appointing authority.

9. The computer was valued at approximately $1,000. To
lease a comparable computer would have cost approximately $75 per
month.

10. Vision has loaned several computers to towns for
business purposes. Vision was unable to produce, however, any case
where it loaned a computer to a public official for home use.

11. In or about the summer 1997, the chairman of the
board of assessors came to Melanson's house to load certain game
software onto the computer. Melanson did not tell the chairman that
the computer was on loan from Vision.

12. In October 1997, certain city officials, having
learned that Melanson had possession of Vision's computer,
criticized Melanson for having the computer.

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Melanson promptly returned the computer to Vision.

13. General Laws chapter 268A, s.23(b)(3), in relevant
part, prohibits a municipal employee from, knowingly or with reason
to know, acting in a manner which would cause a reasonable person
having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that
any person can improperly influence the employee or unduly enjoy
the employee's favor in the performance of the employee's official
duties, or that the employee is likely to act or fail to act as the
result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any part or
person.

14. By accepting a loan of a $ 1,000 computer from Vision
for use at his home, which computer could be readily used for
personal or assessor-related purposes, by failing to disclose this
arrangement to anyone in his department, by keeping the computer
for much longer than necessary to familiarize himself with the
valuation software, and by failing to return the computer to Vision
until city officials made an issue of it, all while Melanson, as an
assessor, had and would be participating in several large contracts
Vision had with city, Melanson knowingly acted in a manner which
would cause a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant
circumstances to conclude that Vision could improperly influence
Melanson or unduly enjoy Melanson's favor in the performance of his
official duties as assessor. In so doing, Melanson violated
s.23(b)(3).[5/] [6/]u

In view of the foregoing violations of G.L. c. 268A by
Melanson, the Commission has determined that the public interest
would be served by the disposition of this matter without further
enforcement proceedings, on the basis of the following terms and
conditions agreed to by Melanson:

(1) that Melanson pay to the Commission the sum of five
hundred dollars ($500.00) as a civil penalty for
violating G.L. c. 268A as stated above; and

(2) that Melanson waive all rights to contest the
findings of fact, conclusions of law and terms and
conditions contained in this Agreement in this or any
other related administrative or judicial proceedings to
which the Commission is or may be a party.

------------------------

[1/] Melanson was first appointed to the BOA in 1984. From
1994 to April 1997, Melanson was acting chief assessor. In April
1997, a new chief assessor was appointed and Melanson became a
regular BOA member.

[2/] In Leominster, all city contracts are handled by the
purchasing agent. The city Is contracting system starts with the
contracting agency drawing up the contract specifications. Using
the specifications drawn up by the contracting agency, the city's
purchasing department develops the request for proposal ("RFP").
The contracting agency reviews the RFP to ensure that the
specifications are correct and the contract is put out for bid.
Bids are reviewed by the contracting agency to ensure that they
meet the contract specifications. The contracting agency ranks the
bidders based on their analysis of the technical specifications and
then the purchasing department awards the contract.

[3/] Total contracts awarded between 1993 and 1996 amounted to
$419,560(1993 four year term $286,560 contract; March 1996 $98,000
contract; and October 1996 $35,000 contract). Vision was
subsequently awarded additional contracts with Leominster.

[4/] Melanson and Vision employees testified credibly that the
computer was loaned to Melanson for a legitimate business purpose
(i.e., for Melanson to learn the new software); it was not a gift
nor was it intended for Melanson's private use.

[5/] Melanson could have avoided violating s.23(b)(3) by
disclosing the relevant facts to his appointing authority, the
mayor. Melanson, however. made no such disclosure.

[6/] There would not have been an appearance problem if Vision
had publicly given and/or loaned the computer to the assessors'
office. On the other hand, if the computer had been given to
Melanson as a gratuity for his personal use at home for or because
of official acts or acts within his official responsibility
performed or to be performed by him, both Vision and Melanson would
have violated G.L. c. 268A, s.3.

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End of Decision