Sen. Downing Tapped For Second Chairmanship

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Sen. Benjamin B. Downing
BOSTON, Mass. — State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, was appointed to chair the Senate Committee on Steering and Policy for the remainder of the legislative session.

The committee assists Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, in prioritizing matters to be considered by the General Court. Downing was appointed by Murray on Thursday afternoon.

"I am very happy to appoint Senator Downing as chairman of the Senate Committee on Steering and Policy," Murray said in a statement released on Friday. "He showed great prowess and leadership in getting comprehensive energy reforms passed in the Senate, and I know he will take on this additional responsibility with his usual determination and strong work ethic to help me and the entire Senate identify and prioritize matters important to the Legislature and to the citizens of our Commonwealth."

This is the sixth total chairmanship Downing has since his first term in 2007. He is currently chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, which he will continue to be. Previously he's been chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Service, Committee on Ethics and Rules, Joint Committee on Revenue and acting chairman of the Joint  Committee on Higher Education.

"I am grateful for the opportunity and privilege to assist Senate leadership as chair of the Steering and Policy Committee," Downing said in the statement. "With approximately 12 weeks remaining in the formal legislative session, it is an honor to have a seat at the table when discussing which bills should be given priority attention by the Senate and scheduled for debate and consideration."

Formal legislative sessions will conclude at midnight on Tuesday, July 31.
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Ethics Commission Alleges Conflict Violations by West Stockbridge Chief

WEST STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — The Enforcement Division of the State Ethics Commission on Wednesday filed an order to show cause alleging that West Stockbridge Fire Chief Peter Skorput, a former Select Board member, committed multiple conflict-of-interest law violations, including setting stipends for himself, his daughter and his nephew; voting as a Select Board member to reappoint himself fire chief; and terminating a firefighter who had filed a complaint against him.
According to the order, shortly after Skorput was elected to the Select Board in 2013, a West Stockbridge official contacted the town's counsel about conflict-of-interest law exemptions available to Skorput regarding his serving both as a Select Board member and fire chief. 
Allegedly, town counsel advised the official that Skorput follow the requirements for a particular conflict-of-interest law exemption that would allow him to accept pay for both positions, and this was communicated to Skorput. From the time he was elected until January 2017, however, Skorput did not meet the exemption requirements and violated the conflict of law by continuing to hold his compensated fire chief position after his election to the Select Board, according to the order.
The order further alleges Skorput violated the conflict-of-interest law by participating officially in matters involving his own and his daughter's financial interests. In 2013, Skorput allegedly voted as a Select Board member to reappoint himself as fire chief. Also, as fire chief, he allegedly decided the amount of firefighter stipends for himself each December in 2013-2015 and for his daughter in 2013 and 2014, and as a Select Board member signed the pay warrants for his daughter's stipends. Additionally, at several Select Board meetings in 2015 and 2016, Skorput allegedly participated as a Select Board member in the board's review of complaints about his performance as fire chief.
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