MA Ethics Commission Alleges Conflict of Interest Law Violations by Canton Conservation Commission Consultant Robert Murphy

Murphy was allegedly paid by clients of his private company to prepare plans for submission to the Conservation Commission

The Enforcement Division of the State Ethics Commission issued an Order to Show Cause (“OTSC”) alleging that Canton Conservation Commission (“ConCom”) consultant Robert Murphy violated 268A, the conflict of interest law, by working on behalf of clients of his private business to prepare permit applications and draft plans to the ConCom, and by failing to disclose his relationship to the business.

From 2010 to 2012, Murphy’s responsibilities as ConCom consultant included receiving all permit applications and plans submitted to the ConCom and reviewing them for completeness.

During the same period, Murphy, a South Easton resident, was also President of M&M Engineering, Inc. (“M&M”), and M&M prepared eight permit applications and plans for private projects, which were submitted to the ConCom for approval. M&M also presented the projects at public ConCom meetings. As M&M President, Murphy prepared the applications, assisted M&M contractors in drafting plans, and hired contractors to present the proposed projects to the ConCom. Although his official duties as ConCom consultant did not authorize him to be paid privately to work on permit applications and draft plans for submission to the ConCom, Murphy received at least $2,400 for his work on the eight projects. Meanwhile, as a ConCom consultant, Murphy reviewed the eight applications and plans prior to their presentation to the ConCom. Murphy failed to disclose his relationship with M&M to his appointing authority.

 Section 17(a) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from directly or indirectly receiving compensation from anyone other than the municipality in relation to a matter in which the municipality is a party or has a direct and substantial interest. According to the OTSC, by being paid to work on behalf of M&M’s clients on matters in which the Town of Canton had a direct and substantial interest, Murphy repeatedly violated section 17(a).

 Section 23(b)(3) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a municipal employee from, knowingly, or with reason to know, acting in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that he is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person. That section further provides that it shall be unreasonable to so conclude if the employee has disclosed in writing to his appointing authority the facts which would otherwise lead to such a conclusion.

The OTSC alleges that Murphy, as the ConCom consultant, reviewed plans and applications prepared by M&M while simultaneously serving as the company’s President, and therefore acted in a manner which would create an appearance of a conflict of interest in violation of Section 23(b)(3). According to the OTSC, Murphy did not file a written disclosure with his appointing authority to dispel this appearance of a conflict of interest.

 The Commission will schedule the matter for a hearing within 90 days.