Commission Fines Former Georgetown Fire Chief $1,500 for Violating Conflict of Interest Law
According to the Disposition Agreement, Roeder was the part-time Georgetown Fire Chief from 2002 to 2004. Roeder is also the president and owner of L.W. Bills Company, a private alarm sales and service company located in Georgetown. In 2003, the Massachusetts Highway Department planned to reconstruct portions of Main Street in Georgetown. This work required the Fire Department to relocate municipal alarm wiring impacted by the project. The Board of Fire Engineers, consisting of Roeder and four deputy chiefs, discussed the project at one of its meetings in early 2004. When a Board member suggested that the Fire Department request bids from local contractors to perform the work, Roeder said that L.W. Bills is on a state bid list and, therefore, the Fire Department did not have to put the work out to bid, or words to that effect. When Roeder made his statement, members of the Board of Fire Engineers believed that Roeder was indicating that there was no need to put the contract out to bid because Roeder's company would be selected as a state pre-approved vendor to perform the alarm wiring project.
Section 23(b)(3) of the conflict law prohibits a public 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 or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that he is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person. By his statement to the Board of Fire Engineers, Roeder acted in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that Roeder could be influenced as Fire Chief by L.W. Bills' possible interest in the Mass Highway contract. That is, a reasonable person would conclude that Roeder's comments were intended to facilitate the award of the contract to L.W. Bills. According to Roeder, his comments were not intended to indicate that L.W. Bills would be selected to perform the alarm project work. Roeder acknowledges, however, that such a comment could have given the appearance that L.W. Bills could unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his Fire Department duties. Accordingly, Roeder violated G.L.c. 268A, section 23(b)(3).
"The conflict law is concerned with the appearance of impropriety as much as it is with actual conflicts of interest," said Executive Director Karen Nober. "If a public official's private business relationship appears to unduly influence his official actions, the public official must properly disclose the relevant facts to dispel any appearance of impropriety."