Ethics Commission’s Enforcement Division Alleges Conflict of Interest Law Violations by Former Blandford Selectmen Chairman Robert Nichols
Allegedly participated as Selectman in hiring his private company to prepare bid specifications for a road repair project, while concealing his ownership of the company
The Ethics Commission’s Enforcement Division issued an Order to Show Cause alleging that Robert Nichols, the former Town of Blandford Board of Selectmen (“BOS”) Chairman, violated G.L c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, in 2011, by participating in the Town’s decision to hire his private company to prepare bid specifications for repairs to a road and culvert, which were damaged by Hurricane Irene, and by approving the Town’s $12,150 payment to his company for the work.
According to the Order, Nichols owned and operated Nichols International LLC d/b/a Berkshire Consulting. In August 2011, Hurricane Irene caused severe damage in Blandford. The Order alleges that Nichols misrepresented to the BOS that the Town’s engineering consultant, Tighe & Bond, was unavailable to prepare bid specifications for needed repair work to a culvert and roadway on Hiram Blair Road. Nichols offered the services of Berkshire Consulting, which he falsely characterized as his “former employer,” to prepare the bid specifications. Between August and November 2011, Nichols participated as a Selectman in the decision to hire Berkshire Consulting to draft the bid specifications and to perform other project-related services. Subsequently, Nichols, as owner of Berkshire Consulting, drafted the bid specifications. The Order also alleges that Nichols, in his capacity as Selectman, approved payment to Berkshire Consulting in the amount of $12,150.50. The Town issued a check to Berkshire Consulting on November 21, 2011. The check was deposited into a Berkshire Consulting bank account, to which Nichols and his wife were the only signatories.
Section 19 of the conflict of interest law, in relevant part, prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such an employee in a particular matter in which, to his knowledge, he or a business organization in which he serves as officer, director, trustee, partner or employee, has a financial interest. The Order alleges that Nichols violated section 19 by participating as Chairman of the Board of Selectmen in hiring and then paying Berkshire Consulting to draft the bid specifications.
Section 20 of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from having a financial interest in a contract made by a municipal agency of the same town, in which the town is an interested party, of which financial interest he has knowledge or reason to know. The Order alleges that Nichols violated section 20 by knowingly having a financial interest in the Town’s contract with Berkshire Consulting.
Section 23(b)(2)(ii) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from, knowingly, or with reason to know, using or attempting to use his official position to secure for himself or others an unwarranted privilege which is of substantial value and which is not properly available to similarly situated individuals. The Order alleges that Nichols violated section 23(b)(2)(ii) by using his position as Chairman of the Board of Selectman to deceitfully secure the Town contract with Berkshire Consulting.
The Commission will schedule a hearing on the matter within 90 days.