For Immediate Release - August 11, 2009

Barre Department of Public Works Superintendent Richard Wheeler Fined $4,000 for Violating the Conflict of Interest Law

The Ethics Commission approved a Disposition Agreement in which Barre Department of Public Works Superintendent ("DPW Superintendent") Richard Wheeler ("Wheeler") admitted to violating the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, by attempting to use his official position to secure for himself an unwarranted privilege of substantial value and by participating in his official capacity in a matter in which he had a financial interest. Wheeler paid a $4,000 civil penalty.

According to the Disposition Agreement, Wheeler, as DPW Superintendent, supervises the Water Department employees. In 2005, in his private capacity, Wheeler installed a water line connecting his property at 75 Fruitland Road to the town water main. When the Water Department inspector came to inspect the water line, he found that a portion of it had been covered over and so could not be inspected. The inspector, who reports to DPW Superintendent Wheeler, asked Wheeler how he could inspect the covered water line. Wheeler told the inspector, "I inspect these too. I know how to do them." The water line was not uncovered and the inspector did not sign off on the application.

In 2007, Wheeler applied for a sewer connection permit for 75 Fruitland Road. As DPW Superintendent, Wheeler signed the permit acknowledging receipt of his own application fee. Wheeler's contractor then installed and connected the sewer line to the town's main line without an inspection by the town. Although no inspection of the sewer line and connection ever occurred, Wheeler signed the permit as DPW Superintendent, confirming that an inspection had been performed and that the sewer line was correctly constructed and connected.

Section 23(b)(2) of c. 268A prohibits a public 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 of substantial value not properly available to similarly situated individuals. Wheeler violated section 23(b)(2) by requesting that the water department inspector conduct an inspection of the water line for his own property even though the water line had been backfilled and no inspection was possible unless the line was uncovered, and by Wheeler stating to the inspector that Wheeler had expertise with water lines, and indicating that the inspector did not need to conduct the inspection. Wheeler also violated section 23(b)(2) by signing off as DPW Superintendent on the sewer permit confirming that the work had been inspected when it had not been.

Section 19(a) of c. 268A prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such in a particular matter in which to his knowledge he, or an immediate family member, has a financial interest. Wheeler violated section 19(a) by signing off as DPW Superintendent on the sewer permit for his own property.

"Public employees may not handle matters affecting their own property," stated Commission Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "In this case, the conflict of interest law violations raise public health concerns as a result of Mr. Wheeler's failure to obtain the proper water and sewer inspections. The penalty in this case reflects the seriousness of these violations."

Disposition Agreement