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Former Sandisfield highway superintendent pays civil penalty for violating conflict of interest law

Sandisfield — Former Sandisfield Highway Road Superintendent Robert O’Brien has admitted to violating a state conflict of interest law by repeatedly hiring his private business to provide services to the […]

Sandisfield — Former Sandisfield Highway Road Superintendent Robert O’Brien has admitted to violating a state conflict of interest law by repeatedly hiring his private business to provide services to the town.
According to a press release issued on Thursday, July 28 by Public Education and Communications Division Chief David Giannotti, O’Brien admitted that he hired his private business to provide services to the town more than 90 times, signed off on town payments to his business more than 40 times, using inside town information to underbid competitors for a town contract, using his public position to solicit private work, and having the town billed for materials his business used to do private jobs.
“In 2015, O’Brien, then privately doing business as P&R Construction, became Sandisfield’s highway road superintendent,” Giannotti wrote. “Between October 2015 and April 2018, O’Brien, as superintendent, decided to hire P&R to plow snow for the town more than 70 times and decided the town would rent equipment from P&R more than 20 times. O’Brien submitted P&R invoices for snow plowing and equipment rentals to the Highway Department and then, as superintendent, approved and signed over 40 Highway Department warrants for submission to the Board of Selectmen, which included payments to P&R of over $50,000, between November 2015 and April 2018. In total, Sandisfield paid P&R about $55,300 for snow plowing and equipment rental services.”
Giannotti wrote that in May 2017, O’Brien, as superintendent, solicited quotes for the town for an excavator rental.
“When competing quotes were submitted, O’Brien read them and submitted a lower quote from P&R,” Giannotti wrote. “Then O’Brien, as superintendent, decided that the Highway Department would rent P&R’s excavator, for which the town paid P&R about $20,000 between May and December 2017. On two occasions in 2018, O’Brien had the town billed for the cost of asphalt and trucking delivery services P&R used for private paving work, although he, and not the town, ultimately paid for the asphalt and delivery services. In 2018, O’Brien, while as superintendent monitoring repairs a private contractor was making to a town road for a utility company, suggested that P&R could do erosion control work on the project. P&R then submitted a proposal to the contractor and was hired for the job, for which P&R billed the contractor $16,000.”
Giannotti wrote that when O’Brien decided that the town would hire P&R to plow snow and rent equipment from P&R, and when he signed Highway Department warrants that included payments to P&R, O’Brien violated the conflict of interest law’s prohibition against municipal employees participating as such in matters in which they know they have a financial interest. “O’Brien knew he had a financial interest in each of these matters because P&R was his business,” Giannotti wrote. “In addition, by, as P&R, renting equipment to the town, O’Brien violated the law’s prohibition against municipal employees having a financial interest in contracts with their employing municipality.”
Giannotti added that “O’Brien violated conflict of interest laws prohibition against public employees using their official position to obtain valuable benefits to which they are not entitled by taking advantage of his position as Highway Road Superintendent to review competitors’ quotes for the excavator rental to the town before submitting a lower quote from P&R, to have the town billed for materials and trucking delivery services P&R used for private work, and to solicit erosion control work for P&R.”
“Being paid by the contractor through P&R to do the erosion control work on a town road violated the conflict of interest law’s prohibition against municipal employees being compensated by someone other than the municipality in connection with a matter in which the municipality has a direct and substantial interest,” Giannotti wrote.
In response, the commission accepted O’Brien’s payment of a $50,000 civil penalty and dismissed the adjudicatory proceeding against him.

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