Ethics Commission Issues Public Education Letter to Oak Bluffs Fire-Emergency Medical Services Department Chief John Rose
Hired and supervised immediate family members
On December 18, 2014, the State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) voted to find reasonable cause to believe that John Rose, the Chief of the Oak Bluffs Fire-Emergency Medical Services (“Fire-EMS”) Department, violated section 19 of G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by participating in the hiring and supervision of his immediate family members. The Commission, however, chose to resolve this matter through the issuance of a Public Education Letter (“PEL”), rather than through an adjudicatory hearing. In doing so, the Commission recognized that in certain areas of public service, such as fire and police departments, there is a strong family tradition in which many members of the same family pursue the same type of employment and frequently work together or for each other. In those circumstances, it is particularly important that public employees and their appointing authorities understand how to comply with the conflict of interest law.
Section 19 of the conflict of interest law prohibits public employees from participating in matters in which they or their immediate family members have a financial interest. In the employment context, this means that public employees may not participate in hiring, payroll/compensation, supervisory or disciplinary decisions involving their immediate family members, unless they disclose the family member’s financial interest in the matter in writing to the public employee’s appointing authority and receive written approval from the appointing authority to participate in the matter. If the public employee does not obtain such written approval, he is prohibited from participating in the matter. As stated in the PEL,
The law presumes that a conflict of interest is created whenever a public employee participates in a particular matter in which his immediate family member has a financial interest, unless the employee’s appointing authority, after being informed of all of the relevant facts, determines in writing that the conflict of interest is not so substantial as to be deemed likely to affect the integrity of the services which the municipality may expect from the employee and allows the public employee to participate in the matter.
According to the PEL, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) appointed Rose as the Ambulance Department Chief in 2006, as the temporary Chief of the Fire-EMS Department in 2012 when the Ambulance Department merged with the Fire Department, and then as the permanent Chief of the Fire-EMS Department in 2013. From 2006 through 2013, Rose hired and supervised all personnel under his command, including signing payrolls and assigning work schedules. From 2009 through 2013, Rose participated, as Chief of the Ambulance or Fire-EMS Departments, in hiring and supervising his brother, his two sisters and his daughter.
In June 2011, Rose submitted a written disclosure to the BOS in which he disclosed his participation as Ambulance Department Chief in matters involving his family members. Rose requested a written determination from the BOS to allow him to participate in hiring and supervising family members. The BOS Chair signed the determination without bringing the matter to the full board for review and approval. Rose was informed in September 2013 that his disclosure/determination was defective. Rose filed a new written disclosure that included a memorandum detailing his family members’ employment and Rose’s participation in hiring and supervising these family members. On December 5, 2013, the BOS provided a written determination to Rose authorizing him to participate in supervisory and payroll matters affecting immediate family members, but requiring him to abstain from participating in matters relating to promotions and appointments of immediate family members, unless specifically authorized to do so by the BOS.
In resolving this matter through a PEL, the Commission noted that employees in similar situations would greatly benefit from an explanation of the law. In addition, the Commission acknowledged Rose’s attempt to comply with the law in 2011, and his compliance with the law since 2013.