Public Education Letter Issued to Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto
Ruberto cited for improper use of public resources in connection with two political campaign events
According to the PEL, on October 31, 2006, Ruberto held a press conference at Pittsfield City Hall to endorse a state senate candidate. Ruberto directed his aide, a municipal employee working on municipal time, to make the arrangements for the press conference, which lasted approximately 15-25 minutes. The second political event occurred on November 1, 2006, at Pittsfield High School. A representative of the Deval Patrick for Governor campaign contacted Ruberto and suggested a town hall style campaign event where high school students could ask the candidate questions. Ruberto sought and received permission from the school superintendent to hold the event at the high school. Ruberto then directed his aide to work with the superintendent and campaign representatives to arrange the event. Ruberto invited political "VIPs" and local public officials to the event. The event lasted about 30 minutes, and campaign or political speeches were made by Ruberto, Congressman John Olver, State Senate candidate Ben Downing and gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick. Some members of the audience, which included teachers, administrators and about 150 students, held campaign signs. No one was allowed to ask any questions.
The PEL identified public resources improperly used in connection with the second event as including public time spent by city employees to arrange the event, and public time spent by building department employees, who were directed to repair the front stairs of the high school, parks department employees, who were directed to clean the school grounds, and school custodians, who were directed to clean and buff floors, in preparation for the event. The PEL states that while public buildings may be used by private groups for private events, usually a fee is paid for the use of the facilities. In this case, the Patrick campaign was not billed for the event, nor was the public building made available to the campaign pursuant to an existing policy.
Section 23(b)(2) prohibits a public official from knowingly or with reason to know using or attempting to use his official position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges of substantial value, which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals. The Commission found reasonable cause to believe that Ruberto violated the conflict law by, in his capacity as Mayor, directing his aide to set up the press conference at which he endorsed Senate candidate Downing, and by using city resources to hold the press conference and to send out the press notice. In connection with the second political event, Ruberto violated Section 23(b)(2) by allowing public resources to be used in connection with what was essentially a partisan political rally, and in connection with the endorsement of various candidates running for public office.
As Executive Director Karen L. Nober states in the PEL, "The Commission has consistently held that the use of public resources of substantial value ($50 or more) for the purpose of supporting a political campaign amounts to the use of one's official position to secure an unwarranted privilege."