October 3, 2012

DISPOSITION AGREEMENT

 

The State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) and Norman Rankow (“Rankow”) enter into this Disposition Agreement 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, § 4(j). 

On April 20, 2012, the Commission initiated, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, § 4(a), a preliminary inquiry into possible violations of the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, by Rankow.  The Commission has concluded its inquiry and, on September 21, 2012 found reasonable cause to believe that Rankow violated G.L. c. 268A.

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

 

FINDINGS OF FACT

 

1.  Rankow is president of Colonial Reproductions Inc., a general contractor based in the Town of Edgartown (“Town”).

2.  Rankow served as the Town Dredge Advisory Committee (“Dredge Committee”) chairman since the Dredge Committee’s inception in 1995.  The Dredge 
     Committee was originally established to prepare a long-range master plan for dredging the Town's waterways.  Upon completion and adoption of the master 
     plan, the Dredge Committee put the master plan into effect.

3.  The Town’s dredge is used primarily to deepen navigation channels and to improve water circulation in shellfish habitat.  To operate the dredge, the Town 
     employs three seasonal workers, a foreman and a part-time clerical assistant.  

4.  Dredging is regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, among others.  After all required 
     permits are obtained, dredging using Town resources can only occur with approval from the Dredge Committee.

5.  At the 1998 Annual Town Meeting, the Town Board of Selectmen (“BOS”) was authorized “to apply for and accept any financial grant, reimbursement or     
     other assistance available in connection with the Town's dredging program and to expend the funds for the same.”  Subsequent to the Town Meeting vote, the 
     Town set up a “dredge gift account” in order to accept donations from Town residents for various purposes, including taking sand from Town dredging 
     operations and providing the sand to residents for use on their private beaches, and for dredging performed on private property by the Town dredge.  Pursuant 
     to the Town dredge gift account procedure, the BOS votes on whether to accept each such donation. 

6.  Rankow, through his company Colonial Reproductions, had been building a summer home for his private clients at a three-acre waterfront site in the Town.  In 
     addition, the private clients separately retained an engineering firm (not Colonial Reproductions) for the dock design, dredging plans, and permitting work.

7.  On January 6, 2012, Rankow’s private clients applied to the Edgartown Conservation Commission (“ConCom”) for a permit to dredge around their 
     dock.  Obtaining all the necessary permits for such work typically takes approximately a year.

8.  By letter dated January 11, 2012, Rankow’s private clients notified the Dredge Committee of their intention to make a $5,000 contribution to the Town’s 
     dredge gift account.

9.  As of January 13, 2012, none of the required permits had been issued for Rankow’s private clients’ dredging work nor had the Dredge Committee approved 
     the use of the Town’s dredge and employees to do the work.

10.  Nevertheless, on January 13, 2012, pursuant to Rankow’s instructions as Dredge Committee Chairman, the Town dredge crew used the Town dredge on 
       Town time to perform the dredging work for Rankow’s private clients.[1]  The Town paid the crew approximately $2,000 for the work.

11.  The BOS voted at its February 3, 2012 meeting to accept the $5,000 donation to the dredge gift account from Rankow’s private clients.  

12.  Rankow resigned from the Dredge Committee on February 2, 2012.

 

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

 

13.  Section 23(b)(2)(ii) of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a municipal employee from, knowingly, or with reason to know, using or attempting to use his official position to 
       secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges or exemptions which are of substantial value and which are not properly available to similarly situated 
       individuals.

14.  As the Dredge Committee chairman, Rankow was a municipal employee as defined by G.L. c. 268A, § 1.

15.  The ability to obtain private dredging using Town resources is a benefit, and, therefore, a privilege.

16.  The dredging at Rankow’s private clients’ dock performed by Town employees on Town time and using the Town dredge, and without the required permits 
       and approvals, was an unwarranted privilege. 

17.  Rankow knowingly used his official position as Dredge Committee chairman to direct the Town dredge crew to use the Town dredge while on Town time to 
       dredge his private clients’ property without the required permits and approvals, thereby securing an unwarranted privilege for Rankow’s private clients.

18.  This unwarranted privilege was of substantial value because Rankow’s private clients received dredging services from the Town and did not have to go 
        through the time and expense of obtaining the required permits and approvals.

19.  This unwarranted privilege was not properly available to similarly situated individuals (i.e., other property owners seeking private dredging from the Town).

20.  Therefore, by, in the manner described above, using his official position as Dredge Committee chairman to secure for his private clients private dredging using 
       Town resources without the required permits and approvals, Rankow knowingly or with reason to know used his official position to obtain an unwarranted 
       privilege of substantial value not properly available to other similarly situated individuals in violation of § 23(b)(2)(ii).

 

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

  1. that Rankow pay to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with such payment delivered to the  Commission, the sum of $5,000 as a civil penalty for  violating G.L. c. 268A, § 23(b)(2)(ii); and
  2. that Rankow waive all rights to contest, in this or any other administrative or judicial proceeding to which the Commission is or may be a party, the findings of fact, conclusions of law and terms and conditions contained in this Agreement.

 

STATE ETHICS COMMISSION

 

   //signed//                   10/3/12
Karen L. Nober           Date
Executive Director

 

  //signed//                   9/22/12           
Norman Rankow        Date          

                                                            

 

I, Norman Rankow, have personally read the above Disposition Agreement. I understand that it is a public document and that by signing it, I will have agreed to all of the terms and conditions therein, including payment of $5,000 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with such payment delivered to the State Ethics Commission.  

 

  //signed//              _    9/22/12  
Norman Rankow         Date


 

[1] The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection fined the Town $8,160 for the unauthorized and unpermitted dredging.  Rankow reimbursed the Town for this fine and for the Town’s legal fees incurred to date.