Sold Cemetery Plots to His Parents in Violation of Town Policy, Enabling Them to Avoid a Scheduled Price Increase\n\nThe State Ethics Commission issued a Decision and Order (\u0022Decision\u0022) today in which it determined that Billerica (\u0022Town\u0022) Department of Public Works, Cemetery and Parks and Trees Division Foreman (\u0022Division Foreman\u0022) Joseph Turner (\u0022Turner\u0022) violated G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by selling Town cemetery plots to his parents. The Commission ordered Turner to pay a civil penalty of $440.\n\nAccording to the Decision, Turner\u0027s duties as Division Foreman included selling cemetery plots. Town policy restricted the sale of plots based on immediate need. In May 2008, Turner deviated from that policy and sold four cemetery plots to his parents for $1,560, just prior to a scheduled price increase, thereby saving his parents $440.\n\nSection 19 of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such in a particular matter in which, to his knowledge, an immediate family member has a financial interest. Section 23(b)(2) 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 unwarranted privileges or exemptions, which are of substantial value, and which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals.\n\nSection 23(b)(3) 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. The section further provides that it shall be unreasonable to so conclude if such employee has disclosed in writing to his appointing authority the facts which would otherwise lead to such a conclusion.\n\nAccording to the Decision, Turner violated the conflict of interest law by, as Division Foreman, selling four cemetery plots to his parents, and by using his Division Foreman position to secure the plots for his parents in violation of Town policy restricting sales for immediate need, and just before a price increase was to go into effect. Turner also violated the law because his actions would cause a reasonable person, with knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that Turner\u0027s parents could improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties or that he was likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship with, or undue influence by his parents. Turner did not file any written disclosures with his appointing authority, the Town Manager.\n\nIn its Decision, the Commission states that the relatively low civil penalty of $440, representing the amount of money saved by the parents by purchasing the cemetery plots prior to the price increase, was warranted for the following reasons:\n\nTurner\u0027s supervisor was aware of Turner\u0027s conduct and failed to take corrective action;\n\tthe unwarranted privilege Turner secured for his parents was of modest value;\n\tit was a very close question as to whether Turner knew of the impending price increase; and\n\tthe illegality of Turner\u0027s conduct would not have been obvious to a person in Turner\u0027s position, particularly to one like Turner who had not received training on the conflict of interest law.\nTurner has 30 days to pay the fine or appeal the Commission\u0027s Decision to the Superior Court.