- David A. Wilson, Executive Director
Media Contact for Former Sheffield Conservation Commission Member Jeffrey Collingwood Pays $2,500 Civil Penalty for Violating Conflict of Interest Law
Gerry Tuoti, Public Information Officer
Boston, MA — Former Sheffield Conservation Commission member Jeffrey Collingwood has paid a $2,500 civil penalty for violating Section 17 of the conflict of interest law by representing a private client before the town while serving on the Conservation Commission. Section 17 is based on the principle that a municipal employee owes a duty of loyalty to the municipality that he or she serves. Because of this duty, a municipal employee generally may not represent or do paid work for a private party in a matter involving the municipality. In a disposition agreement approved by the State Ethics Commission on December 20, 2018, Collingwood admitted to violating the conflict of interest law, waived his right to contest the Commission’s findings, and agreed to pay the civil penalty.
Collingwood, a civil engineer, was hired on or about March 2, 2015 by George Soudant to assist with obtaining permits for work at his property on North Main Street in Sheffield, which contains wetlands. That July, the Sheffield Board of Selectmen appointed Collingwood to serve on the town Conservation Commission (ConCom), which administers the Wetland Protection Act and is the local permitting authority for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
Approximately two months after his appointment, Collingwood appeared before the ConCom on Soudant’s behalf regarding the North Main Street property. Collingwood also represented Soudant before the Sheffield Zoning Board of Appeals. Collingwood was paid $4,343 for work performed in relation to the North Main Street property in 2015 and personally received approximately $2,000 after paying subconsultants. After the Ethics Commission notified Collingwood in March 2017 that he was the subject of an investigation, he did not bill Soudant for work performed after August 2016.
Municipal employees are generally prohibited from being paid by anyone other than the city or town in connection with a matter in which the municipality is a party or has a direct and substantial interest. Additionally, they are generally prohibited from representing anyone other the municipality in connection with such matters. Collingwood violated Section 17 when he represented Soudant before the town, filed documents with the town that he had signed on behalf of Soudant, and was paid by Soudant in connection with the work.
The State Ethics Commission is charged with enforcing the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A. When at least three of the Commission’s five members vote to find reasonable cause to believe a public employee has violated the law, they can also authorize adjudicatory proceedings to determine whether the violation occurred. The public employee then has the opportunity to enter into a public disposition agreement rather than exercising his or her right to a hearing. The Commission encourages public employees to contact the Commission’s Legal Division at 617-371-9500 for free advice if they have any questions regarding how the conflict of interest law may apply to them.