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Boston, MA — The State Ethics Commission has approved a Disposition Agreement in which Keith Mackenzie-Betty, a Town of Barnstable Department of Public Works building design architect, admits to violating the conflict of interest law by using his DPW position to obtain free inmate labor to install a new roof on his home. The agreement requires Mackenzie-Betty to pay an $8,000 civil penalty for the violation.
According to the agreement, the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office offers non-profit organizations and government entities free county jail inmate labor through its Community Service Work Crew program. The Town of Barnstable DPW occasionally uses Community Service inmate work crews to make improvements to Town-owned properties. In 2014, Mr. Mackenzie-Betty used his DPW email account to apply for a work crew to replace the roof shingles on a two-story house in Barnstable and for a work crew to replace the wall shingles on a Town-owned barn. In applying, Mr. Mackenzie-Betty did not disclose that the two-story house was his private residence. In addition, he identified “Mackenzie-Betty/Department of Children and Families” as the “organization” requesting the work crew although he had not communicated with DCF, for which he occasionally provided emergency foster care, about the replacement of his roof. As an individual with a private project, Mr. Mackenzie-Betty was not eligible for a free inmate work crew. The replacement of his home’s roof, which Mr. Mackenzie-Betty scheduled and managed using his town email account and cell phone, was completed by an inmate work crew over a six day period in October 2015, using roofing materials purchased by Mr. Mackenzie-Betty. The estimated value of the free inmate labor Mr. Mackenzie-Betty received was $4,204. The cost to the Sheriff’s Office to supervise the inmate work crew was $1,680.
The conflict of interest law prohibits public employees from using their official positions to obtain unwarranted privileges worth $50 or more. According to the agreement, because Mr. Mackenzie-Betty was an individual, and not a governmental entity or a nonprofit organization, he was ineligible for an inmate work crew and the nearly $6,000 worth of free inmate labor and supervision he obtained for his private roof project was an unwarranted privilege. “By sending his private roof project application to the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office along with a legitimate DPW application, and using his DPW assigned email and his DPW-issued phone to manage his private roof project, Mackenzie-Betty used his official position to secure this unwarranted privilege for himself,” the agreement states. Thus, by using his DPW architect position to obtain for his private roof project nearly $6,000 worth of free inmate labor and supervision for which he was not eligible, Mr. Mackenzie-Betty violated the conflict of interest law; for which violation he must pay a civil penalty of $8,000, according to the agreement.
The State Ethics Commission is charged with enforcing the conflict of interest law, General Laws chapter 268A, which, in Section 23(b)(2)(ii), prohibits the type of conduct engaged in by Mr. Mackenzie-Betty, the use of one’ public position to secure unwarranted privileges worth $50 or more that are not properly available to similarly situated individuals. When the Commission’s five members vote to find that there is reasonable cause to believe that a public employee has violated the law, it can also authorize adjudicatory proceedings against the employee. The public employee can then enter into a public disposition agreement rather than exercise his right to a hearing.
The Commission encourages public employees to contact the Commission’s Legal Division at 617-963-9500 for free advice if they have any questions regarding how the conflict of interest law may apply to them.