Ethics Commission Fines Groveland Selectman Elizabeth Gorski $2,500 for Conflicts of Interest

ethics-sign1-778814Selectman found in one instance to have threatened Police Chief and Deputy Chief’s employment contracts after Police Chief placed her son on administrative leave; 

Enforcement Division committed admits “egregious” error

The State Ethics Commission issued a Decision and Order  following a public hearing regarding allegations that Elizabeth Gorski, a Selectman in Groveland, violated the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, by taking certain actions after Chief of Police Robert Kirmelewicz placed her son, a Groveland Police officer, on administrative leave.  

The Ethics Commission found that Selectman Gorski committed a single violation of section 23(b)(2)(ii) and fined her $2,500 for improperly using her position as a Selectman in an attempt to secure her son’s return to active duty when she spoke with Deputy Chief Jeffrey Gillen during a chance meeting in a Georgetown restaurant on January 26, 2012.

During that conversation, Gorski discussed her son’s leave and noted that the Deputy Chief and Chief’s employment contracts were coming up for renewal.  Although Gorski previously had abstained in her position as Selectman from acting on police matters, during this encounter, she threatened to take negative action with regard to their contracts. 

The Commission found that Gorski violated section 23(b)(2)(ii) by attempting to use her position as a Selectman to threaten the Deputy Chief and Chief’s contract renewals in connection with her expressed desire to see her son reinstated as a police officer. 

Section 23(b)(2)(ii) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, using or attempting to use her official position to secure for herself or others unwarranted privileges which are of substantial value and which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals.  The Commission assessed a civil penalty of $2,500 for this violation.  Gorski has 30 days to pay the civil penalty or file an appeal with the superior court. 

In its Decision, the Commission found that Gorski committed a single violation of section 23(b)(2)(ii) of the conflict of interest law by, on one occasion, threatening negative employment action against the Chief and Deputy Chief of Police, but that the Commission’s Enforcement Division failed to prove any of its other claims against Gorski.  In a separate order, the Commission also addressed a motion to dismiss the proceeding filed by Gorski on the ground that the Enforcement Division improperly failed to produce documents during the discovery process. 

In its Order on the Motion to Dismiss (“Order”), the Commission agreed with Gorski that the Enforcement Division made an “egregious” error by failing to produce those documents or identify their existence to the hearing officer.  The Commission noted that such failure “is particularly troublesome if the information withheld is exculpatory or unfavorable to Petitioner’s case, as it is in this case.”  However, because the allegations to which those documents related were ultimately not proven, the Commission decided that Gorski’s motion to dismiss was moot as to those claims; the Commission denied the motion as to the remaining claims.  In its Order, the Commission addressed the Enforcement Division’s argument regarding its failure to disclose the documents, stating, “we reject the argument that Petitioner’s actions were justified by confidentiality requirements and … emphasize that Petitioner was required both by our rules and by due process to raise issues about the confidentiality of documents with the Presiding Officer.”

In its Decision, the Commission found that the Enforcement Division failed to prove that Gorski had committed any other violation of the conflict of interest law.  Specifically, the Commission found that the Enforcement Division did not prove any other violation of section 23(b)(2)(ii) or any violation of section 17, section 19 or section 23(b)(3), as alleged by the Enforcement Division in its Order to Show Cause issued in March 2013.  With regard to the Enforcement Division’s discovery violation, the Commission stated that its mission is to enforce the conflict of interest law through fair proceedings that provide due process to persons accused of violating the law.  The Commission commented that the Enforcement Division, in carrying out that mission, “must scrupulously play by the rules.”