Former Marshfield Conservation Commission Chairman Mark Stevenson Pays $2,500 Civil Penalty for Conflict of Interest Law Violations
Referred to his Conservation Commission position while privately seeking work on a marina project; drafted an Enforcement Order affecting the project after his company was not selected to do that work
The State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) approved a Disposition Agreement in which Mark Stevenson (“Stevenson”), the former Chairman of the Town of Marshfield (“Town”) Conservation Commission (“ConCom”), admitted to violating G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law. Pursuant to the Agreement, Stevenson paid a $2,500 civil penalty for violating two sections of the law.
According to the Agreement, Roht Marine, a marina located in the Town, was undergoing significant renovation and construction (the “Project”). On January 28, 2013, Stevenson, a marine engineer and owner of Offshore Marine, a marine contracting company, met with the owner of Roht Marine and with the building designer and general contractor of the Project to discuss Offshore Marine’s bid to install new pilings in connection with the Project. During the first few minutes of their conversation, Stevenson talked at length about the ConCom, causing both the owner and the building designer to initially believe that Stevenson was at the marina as a representative of the ConCom on an official visit. As the conversation continued, they learned that Stevenson was at the marina to look at the site in order to submit an estimate for the pilings work. Stevenson continued to talk about his work on the ConCom and stated that although the Project work was sensitive, there would not be any complications because he was the chairman of the ConCom and had been in business for a long time. The owner of Roht Marine and the Project general contractor were concerned that Stevenson would use his ConCom position to adversely impact the Project if Offshore Marine was not selected to perform the pilings work. Stevenson did submit an estimate for his company to do the pilings work, but the owner of Roht Marine selected a different company to do the work.
The Agreement further states that on March 19, 2013, the ConCom issued an Order of Conditions for the project that outlined the requirements for the septic system, lockers and restrooms. Stevenson did not participate in this matter. By summer 2013, construction had begun on the foundation for a structure that was part of the Project. On July 18, 2013, Stevenson determined that the ConCom had not granted approval for the structure, and that an Enforcement Order should issue requiring Roht Marine to cease construction immediately. Stevenson contacted the ConCom Agent to discuss the matter. He then drafted an Enforcement Order, had Town Counsel review it, arranged for the police department to serve it on Roht Marine, and contacted the Town Building Commissioner to report that unauthorized work was being performed at Roht Marine, and that an Enforcement Order had issued. At the July 30, 2013 ConCom meeting during which the Enforcement Order was discussed, Stevenson recused himself from participating in the discussion. The ConCom voted to require Roht Marine to obtain a new Notice of Intent for the project. Stevenson resigned from the ConCom on August 20, 2013. On October 22, 2013, the ConCom approved changes that had been made to the Project and closed the Enforcement Order.
Section 23(b)(2)(ii) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from using or attempting to use his municipal position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges which are of substantial value and which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals. The Agreement states that Stevenson violated section 23(b)(2)(ii) by referring to his ConCom membership and stating that there would not be any complications with the Project because he was the ConCom chairman, while he was discussing his company’s bid for private work. According to the Agreement, “Stevenson in effect made his ConCom membership part of his pitch to Roht Marine to hire his company for the pilings job,” and that, “no contractor seeking to secure the pilings job would have been lawfully able to leverage a public position in an attempt to obtain the work.”
Section 23(b)(3) of the law prohibits a municipal employee from acting in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, knowing all of the circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy the municipal employee’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. The section further provides that it shall be unreasonable to so conclude if the municipal employee has disclosed in writing to his appointing authority the facts which would otherwise lead to such a conclusion. According to the Order, Stevenson violated section 23(b)(3) by taking various actions relating to the Enforcement Order against Roht Marine after his company had unsuccessfully sought the pilings work on the Project, thereby creating the appearance of a conflict of interest. Because Stevenson failed to file a written disclosure with his appointing authority of his company’s unsuccessful bid prior to his actions in connection with the July 18, 2013 Enforcement Order, he did not dispel this appearance of a conflict.