Docket No. 391
In the Matter of Richard Singleton

June 29, 1990


This Disposition Agreement (Agreement) is entered into between the State Ethics Commission (Commission) and Richard N. Singleton (Mr. Singleton) pursuant to Section 5 of the Commission's Enforcement Procedures. This Agreement constitutes a consented to final Commission order enforceable in the Superior Court pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, §(j).

On May 31, 1989, the Commission initiated a preliminary inquiry, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, §4(a), into possible violations of the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, involving Mr. Singleton, former Fire Chief for the Town of Tyngsborough. The Commission has concluded that preliminary inquiry and, on December 21, 1989, found reasonable cause to believe that Mr. Singleton violated G.L. c. 268A, §23(b)(2).

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

1.  Mr. Singleton was employed by the Tyngsborough Fire Department for 28 years.  He started as a call firefighter, and rose through the ranks. He was appointed Fire Chief in July, 1985.  As such, he was a municipal employee under G.L. c. 268A, §1(g).

2.  As the Tyngsborough Fire Chief, Mr. Singleton had official responsibility for, among other matters, reviewing building plans and inspecting smoke detector systems installed in new residential homes and in commercial construction.

3.  Since 1972, Mr. Singleton has operated R.N. Singleton and Son, Inc. (Singleton & Son), a drywall construction company engaged in commercial dry wall construction in the Boston, Lowell, and Manchester, New Hampshire areas.  Mr. Singleton conducted his drywall business and the Fire Department business from his private office.[1]

4.  At all relevant times, the Scribner Hill subdivision (Scribner Hill) was a development of approximately 100 homes located off of Scribner Hill Road in Tyngsborough. This subdivision was initially owned and developed by the Winter Hill Development Corporation (Winter Hill). All homes constructed in Scribner Hill contained smoke detector systems.  The Fire Department was required to inspect and approve the smoke detector systems before certificates of occupancy could issue for these homes.

5.  In approximately December, 1985, Winter Hill hired Singleton & Son to perform drywall construction work on Scribner Hill.  Mr. Singleton's son, Richard A. Singleton, (Rick Singleton), participated in the drywall work on Scribner Hill as an employee of Singleton & Son.  In 1986, Singleton & Son had $200,291.27 as gross sales from Scribner Hill sales.  After deducting certain subcontractor, material, and overhead expenses, Singleton & Son netted $20,978.72. Both Mr. Singleton and his son received income as a result of this work.[2]

6.  In October, 1986, Winter Hill sold the Scribner Hill development to Gibraltar Development Corporation (Gibraltar).  Gibraltar continued to use Singleton & Son as the drywall contractor on Scribner Hill.  Singleton & Son billed Gibraltar for drywall work through May 18, 1987.

7.  In April, 1987 Mr. Singleton's son, Rick Singleton, formed Singleton Construction, Inc. (Singleton Construction).  Rick Singleton was the sole incorporator and the president, treasurer, clerk and sole director of this corporation.  Singleton Construction engaged in commercial drywall construction in Tyngsborough.

8.  After May 18, 1987, Singleton Construction billed Gibraltar for the drywall work on Scribner Hill. Rick Singleton supervised the drywall work at Scribner Hill as an employee of Singleton Construction.

9.  In 1987, both Singleton & Son and Singleton Construction derived income from drywall work on Scribner Hill.  Singleton & Son’s gross sales from Scribner Hill sales were $73,019.52.  Singleton Construction’s gross sales from Scribner Hill sales were $164,877.52.[3]

10.  In early 1988, Gibraltar reevaluated the subcontractors working on Scribner Hill in anticipation of building the next phase of the development.  Singleton Construction was one of the subcontractors that was reevaluated.

11.  During this reevaluation period, Mr. Singleton accompanied his son while be participated in a meeting at the Scribner Hill subdivision.  According to Mr. Singleton, his son submitted an oral bid for the drywall work in the second phase of the development.  This bid was submitted to Victor Barton (Barton), the foreman of the Scribner Hill development, and other representatives of Gibraltar.

12.  On March 17, 1988, Barton went to the offices of Singleton & Son to drop off a check for work previously completed by Singleton Construction.  He entered the office and engaged in a conversation with Mr. Singleton, who wore his fire chief's uniform.  Mr. Singleton inquired whether Barton had decided who would get the drywall work for the next phase of Scribner Hill.  Barton indicated he had not made a decision. Mr. Singleton asked Barton bow long it took to obtain an inspection from the Building Department.  Barton stated that it took 48 hours.  Mr. Singleton stated in substance that there was no such time limit for the Fire Department to perform inspections and that it could take forever to obtain such inspections.[4]

13.  Mr. Singleton resigned from the Fire Chief's position in April, 1988.  He assumed the position of director, and received ownership of one-half of Singleton Construction, in July, 1988.

14.  General Laws chapter 268A, §23(b)(2) 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.

15.  By stating that the Fire Department's inspections could take forever after inquiring about the drywall construction contract for Singleton Construction, Mr. Singleton, in effect, attempted to use

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his official position to secure for Singleton Construction an unwarranted privilege of substantial value which would not be properly available to similarly situated individuals.  Therefore Mr. Singleton violated §23(b)(2).[5]

16.  There is no evidence that Mr. Singleton ever withheld or otherwise delayed inspections on this subdivision or received anything of substantial value for himself or his son as a result of this conduct.

17. In view of the foregoing violation of G.L. c. 268A, §23(b)(2), 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 Mr. Singleton:

1. that he pay to the Commission the amount of one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) as a civil penalty for his violation of §23(b)(2)[6]; and

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

[1] The Board of Fire Engineers authorized Mr. Singleton to conduct Fire Department business from Singleton & Son's office.  The office space, office equipment, computer, copy machine, desks, chairs and utilities were provided by Mr. Singleton at no cost to the town.
[2] While Mr. Singleton did not inspect the drywall work done by his company, on an undetermined number of occasions, Mr. Singleton inspected smoke detector systems on Scribner Hill while his private company worked there.  After January, 1986, Fire Captain Tim Madden performed most of the smoke detector inspections on Scribner Hill.  Mr. Singleton inspected the smoke detector systems if Captain Madden was not available.
[3] Singleton & Son netted $1605.02 from Scribner Hill sales after similar deductions for labor, materials and overhead.  Singleton Construction netted $18,822.88 after similar deductions.
[4] This conversation was witnessed by Fire Captain Timothy Madden. Both Mr. Barton and Mr. Madden took Mr. Singleton's remarks seriously.
[5] Mr. Singleton maintains that he did not intend for his remarks to be perceived as an attempt to use his official position to secure any business for himself or his son. General Laws c. 268A, §23(b)(2), however, embodies an objective test by which a public employee's conduct is judged by what the employee knew or bad reason to know at the time of his conduct.  Mr. Singleton had reason to know his remarks would be perceived as an attempt to use his official position to secure the drywall contract since he knew his son had submitted a bid to retain the drywall contract and that Gibraltar would require additional inspections from the Fire Department as construction progressed.
[6] The Commission is authorized to impose a fine of up to $2,000 for violations of G.L. c. 268A. The Commission imposed a $1,000 fine in this case because the evidence indicates that Mr. Singleton did not realize any economic gain as the result of his conduct and because there is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Singleton withheld or delayed inspections from the Fire Department. Neither Mr. Singleton nor his son performed any drywall work on Scribner Hill after March, 1988.