West Bridgewater Zoning Board of Appeals Member Thomas Snell Pays $6,500 Civil Penalty for Conflict of Interest Law Violations
Voted to approve two variance applications knowing that it was likely he would perform demolition and excavation work if the variances were approved
The State Ethics Commission approved a Disposition Agreement (“Agreement”) in which Thomas Snell (“Snell”), a member of the West Bridgewater Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”), admitted to violating G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by participating as a ZBA member in granting variances for two properties while knowing that he had a financial interest in those matters. Pursuant to the Agreement, Snell paid a $6,500 civil penalty for violating the conflict of interest law.
Section 19 of the conflict of interest law generally prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such an employee in a particular matter in which, to his knowledge, he has a direct or reasonably foreseeable financial interest. According to the Agreement, Snell owns and operates Tom Snell Construction and Excavating, a sole proprietorship that performs excavation and demolition work for property owners and developers. On May 17, 2010, Snell provided the owner of a property located on Forest Street in West Bridgewater cost estimates totaling $11,500 to demolish an existing structure and for site work to prepare the site for construction of a log home. The Forest Street property owner and Snell have known each other for over 20 years and are friendly. On March 31, 2011, the West Bridgewater Building Inspector determined that the property required a variance from the ZBA because the proposed log home would be larger than the existing nonconforming structure on the lot. Sometime between March 31, 2011 and May 3, 2011, the property owner filed an application with the ZBA for a variance. On May 3, 2011, the ZBA held a hearing on the application. Snell voted as a ZBA member to grant the variance and signed the ZBA decision granting the variance. At the time Snell voted as a ZBA member to grant the variance, he knew it was likely that he would perform the demolition and site work if the ZBA granted the variance. Snell subsequently performed the demolition and site work, and received payment from the property owner.
In 2012, a local developer wanted to raze an existing structure and build a single-family home on a lot located on Maolis Avenue in West Bridgewater. In fall 2012, Snell gave the local developer verbal “ballpark” estimates to demolish the existing structure and for the excavation work required to prepare the site for construction of the single-family home. The developer and Snell had a 12-year working relationship where Snell regularly performed site work for the developer. In October 2012, the developer filed an application with the ZBA for variances to raze the existing structure and to construct the single family home. On December 11, 2012, the ZBA held a hearing on the application. Snell made the motion to grant the variances, voted to grant the variances, and signed the ZBA decision granting the variances. At the time he voted to grant the variances, Snell knew it was likely that he would perform the demolition and site work if the ZBA granted the variance. Snell performed the demolition and site work, and received payment from the developer.
The Agreement states that Snell knew that if the ZBA granted the variances, he would likely perform the demolition and site work on the Forest Street and Maolis Avenue lots and receive payment for that work. Accordingly, by participating as a ZBA member in the decisions to grant the Forest Street and Maolis Avenue variances, Snell twice violated § 19.