Bolton Selectman Curtis Plante Pays $10,000 Civil Penalty for Conflict of Interest Law Violations
Represented Private Employer's Interests in Dealings with his Municipal Employer; Had a Prohibited Financial interest in a Municipal Contract
The State Ethics Commission ("Commission") approved a Disposition Agreement ("Agreement") in which Town of Bolton (the "Town") Board of Selectmen member Curtis Plante ("Plante") admitted to violating G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by representing his private employer in dealings with the Town and by having a financial interest in a Town contract to construct a new public safety building. Pursuant to the Agreement, Plante paid a $10,000 civil penalty.
According to the Agreement, on December 4, 2008, the Board of Selectmen voted to award a contract to Groom Construction ("Groom"), under which Groom would be the general contractor for the construction of a new public safety building. Plante recused himself from the discussion and vote. In February 2009, Plante, in his capacity as Vice President and Treasurer of Bradford Site Development Corporation ("Bradford"), signed on behalf of Bradford a $700,000 subcontract with Groom to perform the site preparation work for the new public safety building. The subcontract with Groom was a substantial source of revenue for Bradford, and a significant portion of Plante's salary was derived from the subcontract. As detailed in the Agreement, Plante violated the conflict of interest law by having an indirect financial interest in the Town's contract with Groom, by being paid by Bradford for working on the subcontract and for representing Bradford in meetings with the Board of Selectmen in connection with the subcontract.
Section 20 of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from having a financial interest, directly or indirectly, in a contract made by his municipality, in which the municipality is an interested party, and of which financial interest he knows or has reason to know. Plante had an indirect financial interest in the contract between the Town and Groom because a substantial portion of the compensation paid to him by Bradford was derived from Bradford's subcontract with Groom. Because members of the Board of Selectmen are classified as special municipal employees for conflict of interest law purposes, Plante could have avoided violating section 20 if he had filed a written disclosure of his financial interest in the Town's contract with Groom, and if the Board of Selectmen, with Plante abstaining, had voted to exempt him from the requirements of section 20. Plante did not file such a disclosure and did not obtain an exemption from the Board of Selectmen. Therefore, Plante violated Section 20.
Section 17(a) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee, other than as provided by law for the proper discharge of his official duties, from requesting or receiving compensation from anyone other than the same municipality in relation to a particular matter in which that municipality is a party or has a direct and substantial interest. Section 17(c) prohibits a municipal employee from, other than in the proper discharge of his official duties, acting as agent for anyone other than the same municipality in connection with a particular matter in which the municipality is a party or has a direct and substantial interest. A special municipal employee is subject to sections 17(a) and 17(c) only in relation to a particular matter (a) in which he has at any time participated as a municipal employee; (b) which is or within one year has been a subject of his official responsibility; or (c) which is pending in the municipal agency in which he is serving. As noted above, Board of Selectmen members are special municipal employees for conflict of interest law purposes. The Agreement describes several meetings with the Board of Selectmen in which Plante represented Bradford, including a meeting in which a change order was approved, which provided additional payment to Bradford. By representing Bradford at these meetings, and for receiving his Bradford salary for serving as its representative at these meetings, Plante violated both sections 17(a) and 17(c) on each occasion.
"The conflict law restricts what municipal employees can do when their private business interests also involve the municipality," stated Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "While the law applies less restrictively to special municipal employees, it does not allow municipal employees to become involved in private business matters that also involve their own municipal board or agency, even if they abstain from participating in their official capacity in such matters."