Attorney General denies complaint against Rooney

by beth on September 15, 2017

According to, Town Administrator Mark Purple an ethics complaint filed against former Selectman John Rooney has been denied. Purple informed the public at the September 5th Board of Selectmen Meeting.

[Editor’s Note: Sorry for the delay in reporting it. I just finally got around to watching that section of the meeting today!]

The complaint had been filed by Attorney Gary S. Brackett. Brackett alleged that both John Rooney and Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf had violated ethical standards and Open Meeting Laws in their handling of items related to Park Central, Flagg Road safety, and petitions requesting that Leo Bartolini be removed from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

In an earlier filing, Brackett also complained about Bartolini’s handling of conflicts of interest around Park Central.

According to Purple, the Attorney General’s office notified him that the claim that Rooney conducted “improper deliberation” was denied. I followed up with him to find out if a ruling had been issued on Phaneuf. He responded that he had yet to hear on Phaneuf or Bartolini. But, he noted that if the AG decides not to render a decision, “we may never hear.” 

Back in March when the complaint was filed, Rooney took public offense at both the accusation and insinuations that it was a factor in a decision to announce he would be stepping down from the board the following year. In a passionate speech, he announced he was resigning immediately. (Thus, the Special Election coming up this November.)

Phaneuf also emotionally defended her actions as having been in an effort to represent the public’s best interest.

Other selectmen questioned Brackett on who he represented in filing the complaint. The attorney claimed to represent all of the residents who signed a petition seeking to oust Zoning Board of Appeals member Leo Bartolini last year. (On the blog, some residents who had signed the petition objected to that claim.)

Angered by the accusations against Rooney and Phaneuf, fellow board members characterized the residents “hiding behind” Brackett for anonymity as cowardly. There was also a strong public showing of support for the selectmen by many on the blog and at public meetings.

After Purple’s announcement this month, Chair Dan Kolenda took the opportunity to again thank Rooney for his service.

Rooney is currently serving on the Public Safety Building Committee and the Golf Course Committee. Phaneuf continues to serve on the Board of Selectmen and Bartolini on the ZBA.

1 Louise Barron September 15, 2017 at 7:43 PM

Beth,
This reporting – the headline and article — is incorrect and grossly misleading to the readers. Clearly you have been talking to someone who has led you down the wrong garden path – yet again!

Whomever you got your preconceived notions expressed in this article has mischaracterized the AG’s response letter. You need to report the origin of this information.

Go on the ATTORNEY GENERAL’S WEBSITE and read the posted letter for the public. You should provide a link to this letter for fair and balanced reporting purposes.

http://www.oml.ago.state.ma.us/

The ATTORNEY GENERAL DID NOT “DENY” THE CLAIM as you have reported.

The AG’s response clearly states that because the complaint was filed with the Board more than three months after emails were obtained. . . “we find that the complaint is untimely and we decline to review it.”

This is a “decline” to review, NOT a ruling.

Also, you appear to have combined multiple complaints to the State. The AG’s response letter is to one specific complaint and clearly only responds to that one complaint regarding Rooney. Again, see the link as the letter speaks for itself.

Separately, Ms. Phaneuf’s and Mr. Rooney’s own explanations to the public as to why the state has forbidden them to participate in Park Central matters speak for themselves. You should ask each of them again and report why the state specifically prohibited Ms. Phaneuf and Mr. Rooney not to participate – and post links to state’s instructions to each of them.

Regarding Mr. Bartolini, please provide links in the same location (for ease to the reader) to his various Conflict of Interest forms, particularly on Park Central. On these forms, he denies having ever done business with the developer or his companies on the Park Central form, but this is contrary to previous forms filed by Mr. Bartolini.

It is very odd that the focus of this article is WHO is complaining versus the SUBSTANCE OF THE COMPLAINTS, the substance being the express and forbidden participation of two selectmen who have been instructed by the state NOT TO PARTICIPATE due to conflicts of interest with the developer.

In the spirit of transparency, fairness, and balanced reporting, you should report the reasons why these two public officials have been prohibited from participation on Park Central matters by the Commonwealth and provide links to the State’s instructions to Ms. Phanuef and Mr. Rooney.

As for any “cowardliness,” exactly the opposite applies. It takes courage to call out possible violations. Proper reporting to the state and prevention of retaliation (which is expressly forbidden by law) is exactly the reason why complaints are filed through attorneys, to appropriately cite exact laws and to report and address possible conflicts and violations to the State. Mr. Brackett has over 40 years of expertise in Municipal Law. It is not OK to imply that he does not have the expertise or the integrity to bring forward complaints. He was the former City Solicitor for the City of Worcester and has more expertise than any other town official in this town. His input should be considered an appreciated asset to the town to try to assist the town in operating in a legal and appropriate manner, free of undue influence.

Good and transparent government serves all. And sunlight is the best disinfectant of all. Let’s drain the swamp!

2 MIKE FUCE September 18, 2017 at 9:32 AM

MY OPINION HAS BEEN AND WILL CONTINUE TO BE A FAILED ATTACK BY A LAYWER SHOULD HAVE TO PAY DAMAGES.

3 Matthew Brownell September 18, 2017 at 1:26 PM

Mike,

This was neither an attack nor a failure by the lawyer. There was also no judgement, no ruling, no weighing of the Complaint merits, no consideration of material facts, or one iota of thought given to the ethics violation allegations against Mr. Rooney.

You may want to consider reading Ms. Barron’s very well-written & informational post above, Mike.

4 Louise Barron September 18, 2017 at 3:07 PM

While some may be UNCOMFORTABLE with the topic of CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, the state’s requirement of public officials to properly fill out a conflict of interest form and having a procedure in place is for the COMMON GOOD.

BLAMING OTHERS IS A DIVERSIONARY TACTIC THAT DOES NOT WORK AT ANY TIME, ANYWHERE. THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS SETS THE RULE OF LAW AND THE PROCESS IS A GOOD ONE. THE FOCUS IS THE SUBSTANCE OF THE COMPLAINTS, NOT WHO IS COMPLAINING.

THE FORMS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES – BETH, PLEASE POST THEM – AND PLEASE ASK FOR THE STATE’S RESPONSE AND POST THOSE. THAT WILL HELP STOP CONFUSION.

Generally speaking, the process is to PREVENT BIAS OR FINANCIAL GAIN — and leads to transparency and better government. Only a person with a conflict(!), questionable agenda, or someone trying to financially benefit or undue influence would want something different. The state is the authority that makes the determination. RETALIATION IS EXPRESSLY FORBIDDEN BY LAW.

THE PROCESS IS NOT PERSONAL. IT’S BUSINESS – AND GOOD BUSINESS SENSE TO HAVE A MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT FREE OF CONFLICTS OF INTEREST – ANY ONE WITH FINANCIAL TIES.

Generally speaking, how would a town government stop being taken over by developer interests – i.e. being taken over or having an imbalance of attorneys, brokers, or firms who are looking to line their own pocket? How does any municipality stop back room deals? This is all PROHIBITED BY LAW.

CHECK OUT THE AG’S RULINGS ON SOUTHBOROUGH OVER THE YEARS ON THE FOLLOWING LINK:

http://www.oml.ago.state.ma.us/

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S FINDINGS ON TOWN OF SOUTHBOROUGH’S GOVERNMENT SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.

Beth, please ask the selectmen to PROVIDE LINKS to the state’s instruction to each of them as to why they are PROHIBITED BY THE COMMONWEALTH and unable to participate. THESE ARE PUBLIC MATTERS AND PUBLIC RECORD – regarding PUBLIC BUSINESS.

When the COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS prohibits participation by public officials in areas of conflict, the State means what it says. NO UNDUE INFLUENCE, PLEASE! WHO IS OUR GOVERNMENT SERVING IF NOT THE PEOPLE?
Thanks!

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