For Immediate Release - January 26, 2009

Westminster Conservation Commission Member Joan Anderson Fined for Violating the Conflict of Interest Law

The Ethics Commission approved a Disposition Agreement on January 16, 2009, in which Westminster Conservation Commission ("ConCom") member Joan Anderson admitted to violating the conflict of interest law, G. L. c. 268A, by participating in ConCom matters in which she and her husband had financial interests and in matters involving businesses with which she and her husband had private business dealings. Anderson paid a $2,000 civil penalty for violating two sections of the conflict of interest law.

According to the Disposition Agreement, Anderson at one time owned Brook Bound Nursery, a nursery and garden supply store in Westminster, while her husband, Jeffrey, owned Landscaping by Anderson, Inc. Westminster resident Robert Francis ("Francis") had significant business interests in American Drilling Services, Inc., Crocker Pond Properties, Inc., and Whitman River Dam, Inc. Francis is also a beneficiary of the M&R Nominee Trust (the "Trust"). The Disposition Agreement details extensive private commercial dealings between the Andersons and Francis beginning in 1996, including Francis contracting with Landscaping by Anderson, Inc. and Brook Bound Nursery for various projects at a total cost of approximately $150,000, and the Andersons purchasing property from the Trust. In 2002, Whitman River Dam, Inc. and Crocker Pond Properties, Inc., the companies in which Francis had significant business interests, purchased approximately 937 acres of undeveloped land near Crocker Pond and around the Whitmanville Reservoir. A portion of the Whitmanville Reservoir parcel is located directly across the street from the Andersons' residence.

The Disposition Agreement states that Anderson, in her capacity as a ConCom member, discussed, voted on and signed ConCom Orders of Conditions related to (a) the Whitmanville Reservoir parcel on July 28, 2003, and September 29, 2003; and (b) the Crocker Pond parcel on March 19, 2003, January 29, 2004, and February 9, 2004.

Section 19 of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such in a particular matter in which, to her knowledge, she or an immediate family member has a financial interest. The ConCom's determinations regarding the Orders of Conditions affecting the Whitmanville Reservoir parcel were particular matters. Anderson participated as a ConCom member in these particular matters while knowing that she and her husband owned property abutting the Whitmanville Reservoir parcel. As abutters, Anderson and her husband are presumed to have a financial interest in these particular matters. Therefore, Anderson violated § 19 by participating, as described above, as a ConCom member in particular matters in which, to her knowledge, she and her husband had financial interests.

Section 23(b)(3) of the conflict of interest 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 her favor in the performance of her official duties, or that she is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person. Anderson repeatedly participated as a ConCom member in matters affecting Francis or his companies after she and her husband had a significant business relationship with Francis. By so participating, Anderson acted in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, knowing all the relevant circumstances, to conclude that Francis can improperly influence the performance of her official duties. By failing to file a written disclosure of the relevant facts, Anderson did not take the necessary steps to dispel the appearance of a conflict of interest created by her private business relationship with Francis. Therefore, Anderson also violated §23(b)(3).

"A property owner is presumed to have a financial interest in matters affecting abutting and nearby property, and, therefore, should not take any action in her official capacity on matters affecting property that is near or directly abuts her own," said Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "Furthermore, in order to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest, public employees must disclose their private business relationships before they participate officially in matters affecting persons or businesses with whom they have private business dealings."

Disposition Agreement