Ethics Commission Issues Public Education Letter to Somerset Recreation Commission Members
Recreation Commissioners gave summer jobs to family members and others with whom they had private relationships.
On February 19, 2015, the State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) voted to find reasonable cause to believe that Somerset Recreation Commission members Maryellen Aspden, James Pereira, Raymond Frizado and Richard Silvia violated G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by requesting that the Recreation Department Director hire their family members for summer jobs with the Recreation Department and/or by approving the summer jobs lists in 2012 and 2013 that included those family members or others with whom they had private relationships. The Commission chose to resolve the matter by issuing a Public Education Letter (“PEL”) rather than through an adjudicatory hearing in order to provide other public employees in similar positions and circumstances with a clearer understanding about how to comply with the conflict of interest law.
According to the PEL, in 2012, both Aspden and Pereira requested that the Recreation Director hire their respective stepchildren for summer jobs with the Recreation Department. The Director complied with the requests and placed both names on the summer jobs lists for 2012 and 2013. The summer jobs lists were then submitted to the Recreation Commission for approval. Aspden and Pereira voted to approve the lists in both 2012 and 2013. In March 2013, Frizado placed his name at the top of the summer jobs applications of his two grandchildren, one of whom also happened to be Silvia’s godchild, in order to flag his personal connection to them for the Recreation Director. The Recreation Director proceeded to include one of Frizado’s grandchildren on the 2013 summer jobs list, but not the second grandchild. At the April 23, 2013 Recreation Commission meeting, Frizado asked the Recreation Director to include the second grandchild on the list. The Recreation Director complied with his request, and, at that meeting, Frizado and Silvia then voted to approve the 2013 summer jobs lists.
On May 2, 2013, after consulting with Town Counsel, the Recreation Commission rescinded its April 23rd vote on the summer jobs list, and instead approved an amended list that did not include the name of Frizado’s second grandchild. Frizado then abstained from voting to approve the summer jobs list that included his grandchild, and Aspden and Pereira abstained from voting on the recommendations to hire their stepchildren. Silvia voted on the recommendation to hire his godchild, Frizado’s grandchild.
Section 19 of the conflict of interest law, in relevant part, prohibits a municipal employee from participating in particular matters in which, to his knowledge, he or a member of his immediate family has a financial interest. Stepchildren are “immediate family” as defined by the conflict of interest law. Section 23(b)(2)(ii) prohibits a municipal employee from using or attempting to use his official position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges which are of substantial value and which are not available to similarly situated individuals. Section 23(b)(3) prohibits a municipal employee from acting in a manner that would create the appearance of a conflict of interest, unless a public disclosure of the relevant circumstances is made before any official action is taken.
The Commission found reasonable cause to believe that Aspden and Pereira violated section 19 by voting to approve the summer jobs lists in 2012 and 2013 that included the names of their respective stepchildren. The Commission found reasonable cause to believe that Frizado violated section 23(b)(2)(ii) by attempting to have his second grandchild placed on the 2013 summer jobs list. The Commission found reasonable cause to believe that Frizado and Silvia violated section 23(b)(3) by voting to approve the summer jobs list in 2013 that included Frizado’s first grandchild, who was also Silvia’s godchild. As set forth in the PEL, Frizado and Silvia could have avoided violating section 23(b)(3) if, prior to voting to approve the 2013 list, they had made public disclosures about their relationships with the applicants.
As stated in the PEL:
A conflict of interest occurs when a public employee participates in a particular matter in which his or her immediate family has a financial interest. The law presumes that you cannot be fair and objective in making hiring decisions regarding members of your immediate family, and therefore, prohibits you from doing so. Likewise, the appearance of a conflict of interest arises when a public employee acts officially on matters that affect other family members or individuals with whom the public employee has private relationships. The public employee can avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest by making a public disclosure.
In resolving this matter through a PEL, the Commission noted that young people throughout Massachusetts seek summer jobs in their communities, and, therefore, the situations involving the locally elected Somerset Recreation Commission are not unique.