For Immediate Release - November 03, 2009

Commission Issues Public Education Letters to Former Marblehead Community Charter Public School Officials

The Ethics Commission issued Public Education Letters to former Marblehead Community Charter Public School ("MCCPS") Head of School Thomas Commeret ("Commeret") and former MCCPS Board of Trustees ("Board") member Robert Erbetta ("Erbetta") to resolve allegations that Commeret and Erbetta had violated G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, in connection with Commeret hiring Erbetta to perform construction-related and other work for the school while Erbetta was a member of the Board, and while Erbetta, in his capacity as a member of the Board, twice voted to renew Commeret's employment contract with the MCCPS. This is the first public matter involving charter school officials and their compliance with the requirements of the conflict of interest law.

According to the Public Education Letter issued to Commeret, the Commission found that there was reasonable cause to believe that he had violated section 23 of the conflict of interest law by hiring Erbetta to work at the school between 2003 and 2008 without disclosing this to the Board. Commeret asserted that although he did not make a written disclosure, he believed that the Board was aware that he had hired Erbetta. 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 anyone can improperly influence or unduly enjoy the public employee's favor in the performance of his official duties. It further provides that it shall be unreasonable to so conclude if such officer or employee has disclosed in writing to his appointing authority the facts which would otherwise lead to such a conclusion. Commeret's actions gave the appearance that Erbetta could improperly influence Commeret or unduly enjoy Commeret's favor, or that Commeret was likely to act or fail to act as Head of School as a result of Erbetta's undue influence. Commeret left his position in June 2009.

According to the Public Education Letter issued to Erbetta, the Commission found there was reasonable cause to believe that he had violated sections 6, 7 and 23(b)(3) of the conflict of interest law by participating as a member of the Board in matters in which he and/or his construction company had a financial interest. For example, Erbetta acted as the Board's liaison regarding a school building project that involved work performed by his construction company. Section 6 of the conflict of interest law prohibits a state employee from participating in matters in which, to his knowledge, he or his business organization has a financial interest. Erbetta also, while serving as a Board member, was being paid by the MCCPS for the various work he performed. Section 7 prohibits a state employee from having a financial interest in a contract made by a state agency, in which the Commonwealth or a state agency is an interested party, unless an exemption applies. Finally, Erbetta voted to renew Commeret's contract as Head of School while Commeret was approving invoices Erbetta had submitted for work performed at the school, raising the appearance of a conflict of interest.

As noted in the Public Education Letter, G.L. c. 71, section 89(v) reads in relevant part, "[m]embers of boards of trustees of charter schools … shall file a disclosure annually with the state ethics commission, the department of education, and the city or town clerk wherein such charter school is located. … Such form shall be limited to a statement in which members of the board of trustees shall disclose any financial interest that they or a member of their immediate families … have in any charter school located in the commonwealth or in any other state or with any person doing business with any charter school." Erbetta filed disclosures pursuant to G.L. c. 71, and Erbetta believed that he could contract with the school as long as he filed these disclosures. He did not, however, file any disclosures that may have been required by Sections 6, 7 and 23(b)(3) of c. 268A, the conflict of interest law.

The Commission issues Public Education Letters to provide public notice and education about conduct that the Commission has not previously addressed and has found reasonable cause to believe violates the conflict of interest law. The Public Education Letters to Commeret and Erbetta are the first instances in which the Commission has addressed publicly the application of the conflict of interest law to charter school employees. Karen L. Nober, the Commission's Executive Director, said, "In addition to filing the annual disclosures required by Chapter 71 of the General Laws, it is important for charter school members to be aware that they must also comply with the disclosure and other requirements of Chapter 268A, the conflict of interest law."

Commeret Public Education Letter

Erbetta Public Education Letter