Ethics Commission Determines that Former Canton Conservation Commission Consultant Robert Murphy Violated the Conflict of Interest Law
Was paid privately for work on permit applications and plans submitted to the Conservation Commission; then reviewed those applications and plans as consultant to the Conservation Commission; ordered to pay $10,000 civil penalty
The State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) issued a Decision and Order (“Decision”) concluding the adjudicatory proceeding involving Robert Murphy (“Murphy”), a former consultant to the Town of Canton (“Town”) Conservation Commission (“ConCom”). In its Decision, the Commission found that Murphy violated sections 17(a) and 23(b)(3) of G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, and ordered Murphy to pay a civil penalty of $10,000. The adjudicatory proceeding was initiated by the Commission’s Enforcement Division through the issuance of an Order to Show Cause in July 2014.
According to the Decision, Murphy served as the ConCom consultant for 22 years. From July 1, 2008 until June 30, 2014, Murphy provided consultant services pursuant to two contracts the Town executed with Danena, Inc. During the relevant time period, Murphy was the President and sole officer and employee of Danena. Murphy’s duties as consultant under the Town contracts included reviewing all permit applications and plans filed with the ConCom for completeness and for compliance with the Wetland’s Protection Act and /or the Town’s by-law/regulations, and making recommendations to the ConCom about whether to approve the applications. In addition, from 2010 through 2011, Murphy operated M&M Engineering, a company that provided engineering and survey services to property owners and developers. He received compensation for the work he performed on behalf of M&M Engineering providing services to private clients in the Town.
The Decision states that from 2010 through 2012, M&M Engineering prepared and filed eight permit applications and plans with the ConCom for properties in the Town. In each instance, Murphy hired and assisted subcontractors to complete the permit applications and plans. The private developers and property owners paid M&M Engineering for the work. Murphy, in his capacity as the ConCom consultant, reviewed each of those permit applications and plans submitted by M&M Engineering for completeness and regulatory compliance, and made recommendations to the ConCom about whether to approve them. Murphy did not disclose to the Board of Selectmen or the ConCom, either orally or in writing, his relationship with M&M Engineering. The ConCom learned of Murphy’s connection to M&M Engineering in August 2012 when it was discovered that a plan had been twice submitted to the Town Zoning Board of Appeals, once under Danena, Inc., and then with “M&M Engineering on it.”
According to the Decision, during the period in which Murphy served as the ConCom consultant pursuant to the Town contracts with Danena, he was a “municipal employee” for purposes of the conflict of interest law. As stated in the Decision, “when a company contracts with a municipality or a municipal agency, an employee, officer or partner of the company who actually performs services for the municipality or municipal agency may be considered a municipal employee for purposes of the conflict of interest law.”
Section 17(a) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from directly or indirectly receiving compensation from anyone other than the municipality in relation to a particular matter in which the municipality is a party or has a direct and substantial interest, unless otherwise as provided by law for the proper discharge of his official duties. According to the Decision, Murphy violated section 17(a) when he received compensation from someone other than the Town in relation to particular matters in which the Town was a party and had a direct and substantial interest.
Section 23(b)(3) of the law prohibits a municipal employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, acting in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy his 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. That section further provides that it shall be unreasonable to so conclude if the employee has disclosed in writing to his appointing authority the facts which would otherwise lead to such a conclusion prior to taking an official action. According to the Decision, Murphy violated section 23(b)(3) when, as the Town’s ConCom consultant, he knowingly or with reason to know, reviewed and acted on applications and plans submitted by M&M Engineering, on behalf of its private clients, while he was its operator. The Decision states, “a reasonable person having knowledge of the facts that some of those applications and plans Murphy was reviewing as the Conservation Commission consultant were prepared by a company he operated, that he had hired subcontractors to do some of that work, that he personally did some of the work on those applications and plans, that the subcontractors he hired on behalf of M&M Engineering presented the applications and plans to the Conservation Commission at meetings that he attended as its consultant and on which he made recommendations, and that he was paid privately to do so, would conclude that M&M Engineering could unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties.”
The Commission ordered that Murphy pay a $5,000 civil penalty for violating section 17(a), and a $5,000 civil penalty for violating section 23(b)(3). Murphy has 30 days to pay the civil penalty or file an appeal with the Superior Court.