Public Enforcement Letter 88-1

Mr. George Prunier

November 18, 1987

Dear Mr. Prunier:

Page 322

As you know, the State Ethics Commission has conducted a
preliminary inquiry regarding an allegation that you as a Grafton
Selectman participated in a matter in which you had a financial
interest. More specifically, the inquiry involved your
participation in the deliberation and negotiations for the town's
purchase of a landfill site directly across from your own
residence. The results of our investigation, which are discussed
below, indicate that you appear to have violated the conflict of
interest law. However, in view of certain mitigating circumstances
and action you have agreed to take, also discussed below, the
Commission has determined that an adjudicatory proceeding is not
warranted.

Rather, the Commission concluded that the public interest would
be better served by disclosing the facts revealed by our
investigation and explaining the application of the law to such
facts, trusting that this advice will ensure your future
understanding of, and compliance with, the conflict of interest
law. By agreeing to this public letter as a final resolution of
this matter, the Commission and you are agreeing that there will
be no formal action against you and that you have chosen not to
exercise your right to a hearing before the Commission.

I. The Facts

1. You serve as a selectman in the Town of Grafton and have
since 1984.

2. You live on Millbury Road in Grafton, on property you
purchased in 1981. Since that time you have made substantial
improvements to that property, including additions to your
residence, construction of a garage and your place of business,
plus extensive improvements such as landscaping.

3. On Millbury Road, across from your residence, is a solid
waste sanitary landfill owned by the Adams Corporation. At the time
you purchased the property you were aware of the sanitary landfill
operation. The approximately six-acre landfill site, located 800
feet from Millbury Road and behind a knoll on a portion of the
property away from your residence, was used as the town's solid
waste landfill from approximately 1978 to December of 1985.

4. During that period and subsequent to the closing of the
landfill operation, the Adams Corporation and Grafton Board of
Health had numerous disagrements over the use of the landfill site
and the fees charged to the Town of Grafton. After terminating the
use of the Millbury Street landfill, the town began considering
what measures would be necessary to close out the landfill
according to DEQE guidelines and restore the site to its original
condition. Discussion to this effect began in the spring of 1986
between the Town Engineer, the Board of Health and the Board
of Selectmen.

5. In July of 1986, as Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, and
upon the suggestion of other selectmen, you approached a
representative of the Adams Corporation to negotiate for the
eventual Town of Grafton's purchase of the landfill site. The
former chairman had attempted to accomplish the same purchase
before leaving the Board. After several exchanges of proposals and
counterproposals and further negotiations with another selectman,
the Adams Corporation through its representative requested the
matter be placed on the Board of Selectmen agenda.

6. At a Board of Selectmen meeting on September 16,1986, you
participated in a lengthy exchange with the Adams Corporation
attorney regarding the acquisition of the landfill site. Although
no vote was taken on the matter, you also played a primary role in
the deliberations at that meeting. You commented on the same issue
at a subsequent selectmen meeting on October 14,1986.

II. The Confict Law

Section 19 of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a municipal employee from
participating as such in a matter in which he has a financial
interest. This section is intended to ensure that a public official
is acting in the best interest of a municipality and not pursuing
his own self interest. This section thus prohibits you, as a
Grafton Board of Selectman member, from participating in a matter
in which you have a financial interest. The facts as set forth
above, if proven, would indicate a violation of s.19 for the
reasons discussed below.

That you are a municipal employee and that you participated in
a particular matter (Grafton's proposed purchase of the landfill
site) are indisputable. The nature of your financial interest in
that particular matter requires further discussion.

In EC-COI-84-96,[1] the Commission discussed the potential
financial interest of abutting property owners and other parties
in interest. Without exception, abutting property owners are
presumed to have a financial interest in matters affecting the
value of the abutting property. As an abutting owner you have, and
had, a financial interest in the disposition of the Millbury Street
landfill site. Whether purchased by the Town of Grafton, or
retained by the Adams Corporation, the landfill site affects the
value of your property. It is irrelevant whether the particular
matter beneficially or adversely affects your financial interest.


Page 323

As long as there is some effect, s.19 prohibits your participation.

Thus, it appears that you as a Grafton Board of Selectman member
participated in the matter of the proposed town's purchase of the
landfill site and that you had a financial interest in that
purchase. Therefore the Commission concludes that you appear to
have violated s.19 of c. 268A, the conflict of interest law.

The Commission also recognizes, however, that there are
mitigating circumstances associated with this violation and because
of this, the Commission has decided that this case does not warrant
the initiation of a formal adjudicatory proceeding. The evidence
in this matter tends to indicate that you placed the Town of
Grafton's interest before your own when considering issues
involving the landfill site. Thus you supported the continued
operation of the site as a municipal landfill, even though the
value of your own property would presumably increase if the
landfill were closed and restored. You made your position public
at a Board of Health Public Hearing in August of 1984 and on other
occasions. Your persistent support of the continued operation of
the landfill site with town ownership may thus have been contrary
to your own financial interest. Because it does not appear that
you stood to gain financially by your participation in this matter,
the Commission has elected to issue this Public Enforcement Letter
instead of pursuing adjudicatory proceedings.

In the future you must exercise caution whenever a matter is
brought before the Grafton Board of Selectmen which deals with a
property abutting your own, or whenever you have any financial
interest in the outcome, no matter how small or speculative. If you
are at all uncertain about the applicability of the conflict of
interest law, the Commission encourages you to contact our Legal
Division for an opinion.

III. Disposition

Based on its review of this matter, the Commission has
determined that the sending of this letter should be sufficient to
ensure your understanding of, and your future compliance with, the
conflict of interest law. This matter will be closed once we have
received acknowledgement of your receipt of this letter.

If you have any questions, please contact me at (617)727-0060.

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[1] This citation refers to previous advisory opinions issued by
the Commission. Copies of these and all other advisory opinions
may be obtained at the commission's office.