Ethics Commission Alleges Conflict Violations by West Stockbridge Chief

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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.
In 2016, after a fire lieutenant filed a written complaint to the Select Board concerning Skorput's performance as fire chief, Skorput allegedly texted him, "Turn in your gear," and then fired him. The order alleges that Skorput's retaliation against the fire lieutenant violated the conflict-of-interest law's prohibition against public employees using their positions to obtain unwarranted privileges.
Additionally, according to the order, Skorput's official actions created an appearance of bias, favoritism, or undue influence on several occasions. In 2017, after the Board of Health ordered Skorput to take action concerning alleged dumping on his property, Skorput voted at a Select Board meeting against reappointing the health agent and Board of Health chair to other town positions they held, the order alleges. Skorput also allegedly set stipends and signed pay warrants for his nephew, who was a firefighter, and voted as a Select Board member to appoint a personal friend to a paid transfer station attendant position. According to the order, Skorput violated the conflict-of-interest law's prohibition against a public employee acting officially on matters under circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to conclude that the employee would likely be unduly influenced or biased in performing his official actions. Skorput allegedly did not file disclosures sufficient to dispel the appearance of bias, undue influence, or favoritism before acting on these matters.
Pursuant to the commission's Enforcement Procedures, the Enforcement Division files an order to show cause after the commission has found reasonable cause to believe the subject of the Order to have violated the conflict of interest law. Before filing the order to show cause, the Enforcement Division gives the subject or his attorney an opportunity to resolve the matter through a disposition agreement.
The Ethics Commission will schedule the matter for a hearing within 90 days.

Tags: conflict of interest,   ethics complaint,   

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