Ethics Commission Concludes the Adjudicatory Proceeding Involving Former Merrimack Special Education Collaborative Board Member James McCormick
McCormick admits to violating the conflict of interest law; pays civil penalty
The State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) approved a Final Order and a Disposition Agreement (“Agreement”) concluding the adjudicatory proceeding involving former North Middlesex Regional School District Superintendent James McCormick (“McCormick”). According to the Agreement, McCormick admitted to violating G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, and agreed to pay a $2,000 civil penalty.
As set forth in the Agreement, from 1993 through June 2006, McCormick, a Leominster resident, served on the board of directors of the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative (the “Collaborative”), a municipal agency that provides services and programs to persons with special needs who reside within the Collaborative’s member municipalities. On June 5, 2006, McCormick, in his capacity as a Collaborative board member, voted to approve a settlement agreement between the Collaborative and the Merrimack Education Center (the “Center”), a private, non-profit organization on whose board of directors McCormick also served. The Center provides administrative and transportation services to the Collaborative as a vendor, and allows the Collaborative to utilize certain Center property under a license agreement. The settlement agreement authorized the Collaborative to pay $5.5 million to the Center. At the time he voted to approve the settlement agreement, McCormick was negotiating, or had an arrangement concerning, prospective employment with the Center. McCormick became a Center employee less than a month later on July 1, 2006.
In relevant part, 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 or a business organization in which he is serving as a director, or any person or organization with whom he is negotiating or has any arrangement concerning prospective employment, has a financial interest. 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 and while he was also negotiating or had an arrangement with the Center for prospective employment.
The Commission imposed the maximum civil penalty for violations of the conflict of interest law occurring prior to September 2009, when the Ethics Reform Law became effective. The Ethics Commission can impose civil penalties of up to $10,000 for a violation of most sections of the conflict of interest law, including section 19, for conduct occurring after September 2009.
The Collaborative subsequently challenged the $5.5 million payment, among other things, and in October, 2012, the Collaborative and the Center entered into a settlement agreement in which the Center paid the Collaborative $ 4.1 million.