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Former North Adams Solicitor Fined for Conflict of Interest
11:30AM / Wednesday, March 27, 2019
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John DeRosa
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's former longtime solicitor has been fined by the State Ethics Commission for doing legal work for nonprofit organizations in redevelopment projects during his time representing the city.
 
Attorney John DeRosa, who stepped down as solicitor last year, has admitted that he violated the conflict of interest law by representing and doing compensated legal work for parties other than the city in connection with proposed North Adams redevelopment projects while he was city solicitor, and by advising the city on those projects as city solicitor during that same time. 
 
DeRosa stepped down as solicitor last year after 35 years in the post and a few months after new Mayor Thomas Bernard took office. He has a long history of community and civic involvement.
 
According to a statement from the State Ethics Commission:
 
DeRosa paid a $7,500 civil penalty in a disposition agreement approved by the State Ethics Commission on March 21.
 
While city solicitor, DeRosa was also a trustee of and legal counsel for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Mass MoCA compensated DeRosa for his legal services by giving him a significant discount on office space he rented from the museum, according to the Ethics Commission.
 
In 2011, Mass MoCA was interested in redeveloping Western Gateway Heritage State Park, which is owned by the North Adams Redevelopment Authority, a city agency. In 2011 and 2012, DeRosa, as city solicitor, advised then Mayor of North Adams Richard Alcombright and NARA about the redevelopment of Heritage Park, spoke with the mayor about asking Mass MoCA to do the redevelopment, and worked on two requests for proposals to find a private entity to redevelop the park. 
 
At the same time, DeRosa was also advising Mass MoCA about the park redevelopment as the museum's legal counsel. As advised by DeRosa, Mass MoCA, responded to one of the park request for proposals through a nonprofit corporation DeRosa had previously helped the museum create and which he served as an officer until November 2012. NARA accepted the proposal in June 2012, pending approval from state agencies.
 
DeRosa was also a compensated officer and director of a nonprofit organization, the North Adams Partnership, which he helped form in 2011 to support revitalization and redevelopment in North Adams. Acting as NAP president, DeRosa met in 2013 and 2014 with officials from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation regarding the Heritage Park redevelopment project. (He appeared before the Redevelopment Authority in 2012 "for informational purposes" regarding the proposed development, saying NARA would have to hire independent counsel.)
 
After the Heritage Park redevelopment project was abandoned in 2015, DeRosa, as city solicitor, and the North Adams mayor approached Mass MoCA founder Thomas Krens about a new redevelopment project for the park. Krens proposed creating the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum. In January 2016, DeRosa drafted and filed EMRCA corporate documents on behalf of Krens. As city solicitor, DeRosa edited and reviewed a memorandum of understanding between the city, the partnership and Krens' company regarding the museum. In November 2016, DeRosa, as city solicitor, reviewed an RFP regarding architectural services for the EMRCA. 
 
 
Section 17 of the conflict of interest law requires that a municipal employee represent and be compensated by only the municipality in matters involving the municipality. DeRosa violated this section by receiving compensation from Mass MoCA and the partnership in connection with the proposed Heritage Park redevelopment project, a matter in which he also represented the city as city solicitor; by representing NAP in meetings about the project with DCR officials; and by drafting and filing corporate documents on behalf of EMRCA.
 
DeRosa also violated Section 19 of the conflict of interest law, which prohibits a municipal employee from participating in matters in which he knows a business organization that employs him has a financial interest. DeRosa violated Section 19 when he participated as city solicitor in matters relating to the Heritage Park redevelopment project, knowing his non-city employer, Mass MoCA, a business organization because of its real estate and other business activities, had a financial interest in those matters.
 
Additionally, DeRosa violated Section 23(b)(3) of the conflict of interest law. This section requires that whenever there are circumstances that would cause someone to reasonably conclude that a public employee would be biased or subject to undue influence while performing official actions, the public employee may not perform those actions without first filing a public disclosure that explains the factors that create the appearance of a conflict of interest. While DeRosa filed a disclosure in 2013, that was more than a year after the city approved the redevelopment proposal, and he did not disclose his role as Mass MoCA's legal counsel.
 
The State Ethics Commission is charged with civilly enforcing the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A.  When at least three of the commission's five members vote to find reasonable cause to believe a public employee has violated the law, they can also authorize adjudicatory proceedings to determine whether the violation occurred. The public employee then has the opportunity to enter into a public disposition agreement rather than exercising his or her right to a hearing.  
 
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.
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