Former Fitchburg City Councilor Matthew Straight Fined $2,000
for Participating in License Commission Hearings on Neighborhood Bars-Decision on bars would affect pan to redevelop apartment building as condos
The Massachusetts State Ethics Commission issued a Disposition Agreement in which former Fitchburg City Councilor Matthew Straight admitted violating the state's conflict of interest law and agreed to pay a fine of $2,000.
According to the Disposition Agreement, Straight worked for and owned 2 percent of Johnsonia Associates, a limited partnership created to own and manage a 52-unit apartment building on Main Street in Fitchburg. Straight's father owned a majority share of the partnership, and a third person owned the remaining share. In 2002, Straight received oral advice from the Ethics Commission that he could not participate as a city councilor in a discussion that would affect his or his father's financial interests.
In 2004 and 2005, the Straights began the process to convert the Johnsonia rental units into condominiums. In January 2005, Straight wrote a letter to the License Commission as a city councilor raising concerns about the Third Base Bar & Grill, a bar near the Johnsonia building that was facing suspension of its liquor license. Straight recommended that the bar's closing hours be changed from 2 a.m. to 12 midnight and that the bar receive a warning letter. In March 2005, Straight spoke at a License Commission hearing regarding the House of Brews, another bar near the Johnsonia building. The decisions concerning the neighboring bars would affect the plan to redevelop the Johnsonia building as a condominium building. As the manager of the Johnsonia and a part-owner of the building, Straight had a private financial interest in keeping the neighborhood safe and free from crime.
Section 19 prohibits a municipal employee from officially participating in matters in which to his knowledge he, his immediate family or a business in which he is serving as an employee has a financial interest. By participating as a City Councilor in matters before the License Commission involving bars nearby the Johnsonia building, Straight participated in matters affecting his, his father's and his employer's financial interests.
"The conflict of interest law was created to ensure that public officials do not intermingle their private interests with the public's interest," said Executive Director Peter Sturges. "Such intermingling diminishes the public's confidence in the integrity of the decisions that public officials make."