Newburyport Water Treatment Plant Superintendent Thomas Cusick Pays $13K Fine for Conflicts of Interest

Cusick accepted free ski trips from water meter manufacturer and its distributor

Newburyport Department of Public Services Water Treatment Plant Superintendent Thomas Cusick has paid a $13,000 civil penalty for violating the conflict of interest law by accepting free ski trips from a water meter manufacturer and its distributor. Cusick admitted the violations and waived his right to a hearing.

Cusick committed the violations both as a Newburyport town employee and as a Groveland town employee in his previous position as Groveland Water and Sewer Department Superintendent, which he held until May 2019.

The Groveland Water and Sewer Department uses water meters made by an Alabama-based manufacturer and sourced through the manufacturer’s sole authorized New England distributor. While Newburyport has not purchased water meters from the Alabama manufacturer or its distributor, the DPS does purchase other products from the distributor. When asked by another Newburyport DPS employee considering purchasing water meters about his prior experience purchasing from the manufacturer and distributor, Cusick spoke favorably of them.

On multiple occasions, the Alabama water meter manufacturer and its distributor hosted ski trips and other events to which they invited employees of several municipal water districts and departments of public works, including, at times, Cusick.

Cusick took part in three-day ski trips the Alabama water meter manufacturer and its distributor hosted in Sugarloaf, Maine, in 2018; Stowe, Vermont, in 2019; Okemo, Vermont, in 2020; and Jay Peak, Vermont, in 2022. The water meter vendors paid for Cusick’s lodging, meals, and ski lift tickets.

The conflict of interest law prohibits public employees from accepting anything worth $50 or more that is given to them for or because of their official positions. When Cusick accepted the free ski trips, he violated this prohibition because he knew or had reason to know the vendors were giving him the free trips due to his positions as Groveland Water and Sewer Department Superintendent and Newburyport DPS Water Treatment Plant Superintendent.

“When a municipal employee in a position of authority accepts valuable gifts from vendors or potential vendors to their agency, they give the public cause to question the integrity of their agency’s purchasing decisions and to ask whether those decisions are being made to serve private interests rather than the public interest,” said State Ethics Commission Executive Director David A. Wilson. “Such misconduct undermines the public’s confidence in the integrity of public service at the municipal level, in municipal agencies, and in municipal government generally.”

Earlier this year, current or former employees of Danvers, Franklin, Natick, Salem, Southampton, and the Sudbury Water District signed disposition agreements and paid civil penalties to resolve similar conflict of interest law violations related to accepting ski trips from the water meter manufacturer and distributor. In May, the Commission initiated adjudicatory proceedings against an Auburn Water District employee alleging that he also accepted free ski trips from the water meter vendors.

The Commission encourages public employees to contact the Commission’s Legal Division at 617-371-9500 for free advice if they have any questions regarding how the conflict of interest law may apply to them.