For Immediate Release - February 25, 2009

Agawam City Councilor George Bitzas Fined For Violating the Conflict of Interest Law

The Ethics Commission ("Commission") approved a Disposition Agreement ("Agreement") on February 20, 2009, in which Agawam City Council member George Bitzas ("Bitzas") admitted to violating G. L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law. Bitzas paid a $2,000 civil penalty.

According to the Agreement, in October 2007, Bitzas met with Hannah Kozah ("Kozah"), the owner of John's Getty Auto, on two occasions after campaign signs supporting Susan Dawson for Mayor were placed on the property. Bitzas supported incumbent Mayor Richard Cohen. During the first meeting, Bitzas told Kozah that Mayor Cohen was upset about the Dawson signs being placed on Kozah's property. Later that day, Bitzas again visited Kozah and showed Kozah a picture of a town employee whose personal vehicle had a Dawson campaign sign displayed. According to the Agreement, Bitzas told Kozah, "See what happens to him after the election." The Agreement notes that the City Council is responsible for enacting temporary parking ordinances that regulate the ability of residents to obtain permits to park cars on their property during special events, and that Kozah had previously asked Bitzas and Mayor Cohen to intercede on his behalf with the city Board of Appeals regarding Kozah's application to park cars on his property during local events. Kozah was dissatisfied with the response he received from Bitzas and Cohen.

Section 23(b)(2) prohibits a municipal employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, using or attempting to use his official position to obtain for himself or others an unwarranted privilege of substantial value which is not properly available to similarly situated individuals. The Agreement stated, "Bitzas invoked his official position as an Agawam City Councilor by purporting to speak for the mayor and by implicitly threatening city action against supporters of the mayor's opponent." The Agreement further concluded that, "by attempting to use his position as a city councilor to get Kozah to take down the mayor's opponent's campaign signs, Bitzas knowingly, or with reason to know, attempted to use his councilor position to obtain an unwarranted privilege of substantial value for the mayor … ." Therefore, Bitzas violated § 23(b)(2).

"City officials have regulatory power over local businesses," said Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "That power and the power of their public offices may not be used to coerce political support from business owners."

Disposition Agreement