Former Templeton Selectman Dennis O’Brien Pays $1,000 Civil Penalty for Violating Conflict of Interest Law
Participated in the town’s purchase of a vacant property near his family home
The State Ethics Commission approved a Disposition Agreement (“Agreement”) in which former Templeton Board of Selectmen (“BOS”) member and Municipal Building Study Committee (“Committee”) member Dennis O’Brien (“O’Brien”) admitted to violating G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by participating in the Town’s purchase of a vacant factory building located directly across the street from the O’Brien residence. Pursuant to the Agreement, O’Brien paid a $1,000 civil penalty.
According to the Agreement, in 2009, the Committee was formed to study the cost of acquiring a building to use as a town hall and to develop the specifications for a request for proposals (“RFP”) to identify a suitable building. In 2010, the Committee provided the specifications to the BOS so that the BOS could draft an RFP for a suitable building. O’Brien then participated as a selectman in drafting, approving and issuing the RFP, which specified that the Town acquire a building with at least 12,000 square feet of space. Four responses to the RFP were received, but the only one that met the RFP specifications was the one that proposed the building across the street from the O’Brien residence.
The building across from the O’Brien home was a 12,000 square foot, vacant factory building, which O’Brien described as an “eyesore.” O’Brien, as a Committee member, participated in recommending that Town Meeting approve the purchase of the building. After the purchase was approved at the 2010 Town Meeting, O’Brien then participated as a selectman to finalize the purchase and authorize the payment of $400,000 for the building. O’Brien, his wife and their three adult children had a financial interest in the Town’s purchase of the building because of the close proximity of the building to the O’Brien home. Due to financial considerations, the building was never renovated or converted into a town hall, and has remained vacant since 2009. The Town is currently attempting to sell the property.
“When a property is developed or altered, it affects the value of nearby and abutting properties,” stated Executive Director Karen L. Nober. “For purposes of the conflict of interest law, a property owner is presumed to have a financial interest in matters affecting abutting and nearby property. Therefore, a public employee should not take any action in his official capacity on matters affecting property that is near or that abuts his own property unless he can rebut the presumption by showing he does not have a financial interest.”
Section 19 of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such an employee in a particular matter in which, to his knowledge, he or an immediate family member has a financial interest. According to the Agreement, O’Brien, as both a Committee member and a BOS member, violated section 19 by participating in the Town’s purchase of a building directly across the street from his family home.