For Immediate Release - January 31, 2011

West Bridgewater Board of Assessors Chairman Stephen McCarthy and Head Clerk Donna Cotter Cited for Conflict of Interest Law Violations

Improperly approved and processed a property tax abatement application for McCarthy's friends

The State Ethics Commission approved two Disposition Agreements (together, the "Agreements") in which West Bridgewater Board of Assessors ("BoA") Chairman Stephen McCarthy ("McCarthy") and Head Clerk Donna Cotter ("Cotter") each violated G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by improperly approving and processing a property tax abatement application submitted by friends of McCarthy. Pursuant to the Agreements, McCarthy paid a $5,000 civil penalty, and Cotter paid a $1,000 civil penalty.

According to the Agreements, in January 2010, McCarthy assisted his friends, Daniel and Marjorie McNally, in preparing a property tax abatement application that requested that their property assessment be reduced from $280,600 to $240,000. The application came before the BoA in February 2010; McCarthy told fellow BoA members that he had been called by a friend regarding the abatement request, and that the property assessment should be lowered. The BoA took no action on the application. To approve an abatement application, a minimum of two BoA members must sign the application and an abatement certificate prepared by BoA staff. The Agreements state that McCarthy and Cotter are also friends. In or about March 2010, McCarthy signed the McNally abatement application and certificate. Although McCarthy was the only BoA member who signed these documents, he directed Cotter to process the abatement. As Head Clerk, Cotter knew that two BoA member signatures were required to approve an abatement application. Nonetheless, Cotter processed the application and certificate and submitted them to the tax collector. As a result the McNallys' property assessment was lowered to $254,500, and their property tax liability was reduced by $339.30 for 2010, and by unknown amounts in future years.

Section 23(b)(2)(ii) prohibits municipal employees from knowingly, or with reason to know, using or attempting to use their official positions to secure for themselves or others unwarranted privileges or exemptions which are of substantial value and which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals.

McCarthy violated section 23(b)(2)(ii) by approving the abatement application and certificate for the McNallys without obtaining a second BoA member signature, and by directing Cotter to process the abatement. Cotter violated section 23(b)(2)(ii) by processing the McNallys' abatement application and certificate, upon the request of her friend McCarthy, knowing that they were not properly approved by the BoA.

"The conflict of interest law prohibits public employees from using their positions to obtain privileges for their friends," stated Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "McCarthy and Cotter both violated the law by circumventing established procedures to benefit or accommodate their friends."

McCarthy Disposition Agreement

Cotter Disposition Agreement