- David A. Wilson, Executive Director
Media Contact for West Stockbridge Fire Chief and Former Select Board Member Peter Skorput Pays $5,000 Civil Penalty for Violating Conflict of Interest Law
Gerry Tuoti, Public Information Officer
Boston, MA — The State Ethics Commission has issued a Final Order approving a Disposition Agreement in which West Stockbridge Fire Chief Peter Skorput, a former Select Board member, admits to violating the conflict of interest law by continuing to serve as Fire Chief after his election to the Select Board; deciding payment amounts for himself, his daughter, and his nephew; voting as a Select Board member to reappoint himself Fire Chief; terminating a firefighter who had filed a complaint against him; and through other actions. The Commission accepted Skorput’s payment of a $5,000 civil penalty and dismissed the adjudicatory proceeding against him.
On multiple occasions, Skorput violated a provision of the conflict of interest law that prohibits municipal employees from acting officially in matters involving their own financial interests or those of an immediate family member. As a Select Board member, Skorput voted in 2013 to reappoint himself Fire Chief and at various times participated in the Board’s review of complaints about his performance as Fire Chief. As Fire Chief, Skorput decided the amounts of firefighter incentive payments he and his daughter, who was a firefighter, received. As a Select Board member, Skorput signed pay warrants for his daughter’s payments.
In 2016, Skorput violated the conflict of interest law’s prohibition against public employees using their official positions to secure for themselves valuable unwarranted privileges by using his Fire Chief position to retaliate against a fire lieutenant who complained to the Select Board about his job performance. Skorput texted the lieutenant, “Turn in your gear,” and then fired him.
Additionally, Skorput created an unlawful appearance of favoritism and undue influence in the performance of his official duties. Skorput, as Fire Chief, decided the firefighter incentive payment amounts for his nephew, a firefighter, and as a Select Board member, signed pay warrants for those incentive payments. In 2018, after the Board of Health ordered him to act concerning a dumping site on his property, Skorput voted as a Select Board member against reappointing the Health Agent to that position and positions on two town commissions. Skorput also voted against reappointing the Board of Health Chair to another town position he held. The conflict of interest law requires that when there are circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to think that a public employee would act as a result of favoritism or undue influence in performing his official duties, the public employee may not perform those duties without first publicly disclosing those circumstances. Skorput did not make public disclosures sufficient to dispel the appearance of favoritism or undue influence before acting officially on these matters.
Finally, by continuing to serve as Fire Chief after being elected to the Select Board, Skorput violated a provision of the conflict of interest law that prohibited him, while serving as a Select Board member, from holding another compensated municipal position in the same town. While the provision includes exemptions, including two for which he was potentially eligible, Skorput failed to meet their requirements.
The State Ethics Commission is charged with enforcing the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A. When the Commission’s five members vote to find reasonable cause to believe a public employee has violated the law, it can also authorize an adjudicatory proceeding against the employee. The Commission’s Enforcement Division initiated an adjudicatory proceeding against Skorput in September 2019. Once an adjudicatory proceeding has been initiated, the public employee then has an option of entering 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.