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Settlement

Settlement In the Matter of Donald Pipczynski

Date: 03/25/2019
Organization: State Ethics Commission
Docket Number: 19-0001

The Commission approved a Disposition Agreement in which former Hadley Select Board member Donald Pipczynski admitted to violating  sections 23(b)(2)(ii) and 19 of the conflict of interest law by invoking his official position to threaten a private club that expelled him, and by voting as a Select Board member against forwarding complaints about his conduct to the State Ethics Commission. Pipczynski paid a $5,000 civil penalty.

Table of Contents

Introduction

The State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) and Donald Pipczynski (“Pipczynski”) enter into this Disposition Agreement pursuant to Section 3 of the Commission’s Enforcement Procedures. This Agreement constitutes a consented-to final order enforceable in the Superior Court, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, § 4(j).

On February 16, 2017, the Commission initiated, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, § 4(a), a preliminary inquiry into possible violations of the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A. On January 23, 2019, the Commission concluded its inquiry and found reasonable cause to believe that Pipczynski violated G.L. c. 268A, §§ 19 and 23(b)(2)(ii).

The Commission and Pipczynski now agree to the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

Threatening a Private Club for Revoking his Membership

Findings of Fact

1.  Pipczynski, a resident of Hadley, Massachusetts, was a member of the Hadley Select Board (“Select Board”) during the relevant time.

2.  In the 1980s, Pipczynski was a member of the Young Men’s Club of Hadley, a private club (“Club”) in Hadley, until the Club revoked his membership.
 

3.  Pipczynski rejoined the Club in 2015 in order to be able to rent the Club’s pavilion at the members’ discount. At all relevant times, the pavilion rental fee was $350.00 for Club members and $625.00 for non-members.

4.  On August 7, 2016, the Club voted to revoke Pipczynski’s membership and notified him of the revocation by letter dated August 15, 2016.

5.  On August 19, 2016, Pipczynski attempted unsuccessfully to enter the Club using his member card key. The Club’s bartender buzzed him in. Upon entry, Pipczynski asked, “Have I been kicked out again?” and stated, “If I've been kicked out, I'm going to be the second Select Board member in town to have a problem with this club and you're going to have a major issue on your hands.”

6.  The Select Board is responsible for renewing the Club’s liquor and entertainment licenses.

7.  On September 11, 2016, the Club affirmed its decision to revoke Pipczynski’s membership.

Conclusions of Law

8.  Section 23(b)(2)(ii) of G.L. c. 268A 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.

9.  As a Select Board member, Pipczynski was a municipal employee as that term is defined in G.L. c. 268A, § 1(g).

10.  Club membership was a privilege.

11.  Club membership reinstated because of Pipczynski’s position as a Select Board member or difficulties he could cause for the Club as a Select Board member would have been an unwarranted privilege.

12.  By invoking his status as a Select Board member in an attempt to cause the Club to reinstate his membership, Pipczynski knowingly or with reason to know used his official position to secure for himself an unwarranted privilege.

13.  Pipczynski’s use of his Select Board member’s position and power in an attempt to cause the Club to restore his revoked membership was not properly available to similarly situated individuals.

14.  Substantial value is $50 or more. The Club membership was of substantial value to Pipczynski because it made available to him the $275 Club member discount on the fee for renting the Club’s pavilion.

15.  Therefore, by invoking his Select Board member position in an attempt to cause the Club to reinstate his membership, Pipczynski knowingly or with reason to know used his official position to secure for himself an unwarranted privilege of substantial value that was not properly available to similarly situated individuals. In so doing, Pipczynski violated § 23(b)(2)(ii).

Voting Against Complaints to the Commission

Findings of Fact

16.  Pipczynski took the online conflict of interest training in May 2016. The training has a subsection titled “Penalties for Violation of the Law.”

17.  The Select Board received two additional complaints that Pipczynski had invoked his position and/or flashed his Select Board member’s badge in private disputes.

18.  On September 7, 2016, and November 29, 2016, the Select Board voted to send the complaints against Pipczynski to the Commission. On both occasions, Pipczynski voted as a Select Board member against sending complaints to the Commission.

Conclusions of Law

19.  Except as otherwise permitted, § 19 of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a municipal employee from participating[1] as such an employee in a particular matter[2] in which, to his knowledge, he has a financial interest.[3]

20.  Each of the two votes by the Select Board deciding whether to send the complaints against Pipczynski to the Commission was a particular matter.

21.  Pipczynski personally and substantially participated in those two particular matters as a municipal employee by voting as a Select Board member against sending the complaints to the Commission.

22.  Each time he participated in the Select Board votes, Pipczynski knew he had a financial interest in the decision to send complaints to the Commission because he knew that a finding by the Commission that he had violated the conflict of interest law could result in the imposition of civil penalties against him.

23.  Therefore, by participating as a Select Board member in the two votes on whether to file a complaint against him with the Commission, Pipczynski participated as a municipal employee in particular matters in which he had to his knowledge a financial interest.  In so doing, Pipczynski violated § 19.

Resolution

In view of the foregoing violations of G.L. c. 268A by Pipczynski, the Commission has determined that the public interest would be served by the disposition of this matter without further enforcement proceedings, on the following terms and conditions agreed to by Pipczynski:

  1. that Donald Pipczynski pay to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with such payment to be delivered to the Commission, the sum of $5,000 as a civil penalty for violating G.L. c. 268A, §§ 19 and 23(b)(2)(ii); and
     
  2. that Donald Pipczynski waive all rights to contest, in this or any other administrative or judicial proceeding to which the Commission is or may be a party, the findings of fact, conclusions of law and terms and conditions contained in this Agreement.

By signing below, Donald Pipczynski acknowledges that he has personally read this Disposition Agreement, that it is a public document, and that he agrees to all the terms and conditions therein.

[1] “Participate” means to participate in agency action or in a particular matter personally and substantially as a state, county or municipal employee, through approval, disapproval, decision, recommendation, the rendering of advice, investigation or otherwise. G.L. c. 268A, § 1(j).

[2] “Particular matter” means any judicial or other proceeding, application, submission, request for a ruling or other determination, contract, claim, controversy, charge, accusation, arrest, decision, determination, finding, but excluding enactment of general legislation by the general court and petitions of cities, towns, counties and districts for special laws related to their governmental organizations, powers, duties, finances and property. G.L. c. 268A, § 1(k).

[3] “Financial interest” means any economic interest of a particular individual that is not shared with a substantial segment of the population of the municipality. See Graham v. McGrail, 370 Mass. 133 (1976). This definition has embraced private interests, no matter how small, which are direct, immediate or reasonably foreseeable. See EC-COI-84-98. The interest can be affected in either a positive or negative way. EC-COI-84-96.

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