Enforcement Division Alleges Conflict of Interest Law Violations by Former Merrimack Special Education Collaborative Board Member James McCormick
Voted to approve payment of $5.5 million to the Merrimack Education Center while also serving on that organization’s board of directors and while negotiating or having an arrangement for prospective employment with that organization
The State Ethics Commission’s Enforcement Division today issued an Order to Show Cause (“Order”) alleging that former North Middlesex Regional School District Superintendent James McCormick (“McCormick”), while also serving on the board of directors of the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative (the “Collaborative”), violated G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by voting as a Collaborative board member to approve the payment of $5.5 million to the Merrimack Education Center (the “Center”), a private, non-profit organization on whose board of directors McCormick also served.
According to the Order, the Collaborative is a public agency which provides services and programs to persons with special needs who reside within the Collaborative’s member municipalities. The private, non-profit Center provides administrative and transportation services to the Collaborative as a vendor, and allows the Collaborative to utilize some Center property under a license agreement. The Order alleges that on June 5, 2006, McCormick voted as a Collaborative board member to approve a settlement agreement under which the Collaborative would pay $5.5 million to the Center. At the time he so voted, McCormick was a member of the Center’s board of directors, and he was also negotiating, or had an arrangement concerning, prospective employment with the Center. McCormick became a Center employee beginning July 1, 2006.
Section 19 of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such in a particular matter in which, to his knowledge, he, his immediate family or partner, a business organization in which he is serving as officer, director, trustee, partner or employee, or any person or organization with whom he is negotiating or has any arrangement concerning prospective employment, has a financial interest. The Order alleges that McCormick violated section 19 by voting to approve the payment of $5.5 million by the Collaborative to the Center while he was a member of the Center’s board of directors; while he was also negotiating or had an arrangement with the Center for prospective employment; and while he had a personal financial interest in such vote.
Section 23(b)(3) prohibits a municipal employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, acting in a manner which could cause a reasonable person, knowing all of the facts, to conclude that anyone can improperly influence or unduly enjoy that person’s favor in the performance of his official duties or that he is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person. This subsection goes on to provide that it is unreasonable to draw such a conclusion if the municipal employee discloses in advance in writing to his appointing authority all of the relevant circumstances which would otherwise create the appearance of a conflict of interest. The Order alleges that McCormick violated section 23(b)(3) by voting to approve the payment of $5.5 million to the Center while he was also a member of the Center’s board of directors and while he was negotiating or had an arrangement for prospective employment with the Center, without making a written disclosure of these facts to his appointing authority.
The Commission will schedule the matter for a public hearing within 90 days.
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