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State ethics panel charges West Stockbridge fire chief with conflict of interest law

WEST STOCKBRIDGE — The enforcement division of the state Ethics Commission has filed an order to show cause alleging that the town’s fire chief and former select board member had perpetrated multiple conflict of interest law violations.

According to a release distributed by the commission, West Stockbridge Fire Chief Peter Skorput allegedly voted to reappoint himself as fire chief; set stipends for himself, his daughter, Tricia Skorput, and his nephew, William Cooper; and terminated West Stockbridge Fire Lt. James Hallock, who had filed a complaint against him.

“I didn’t file the right paperwork,” said Skorput in an interview with this newspaper. “I made a mistake.

“It all comes down to a certain individual that wanted to get back at me and turned me in for certain mistakes.”

Skorput was elected to the select board in 2013. Shortly thereafter, a West Stockbridge official contacted town counsel about conflict of interest law exemptions that would be available to Skorput, who was serving in both capacities as fire chief and member of the select board at the time.

The order states that counsel sent an email on May 30, 2013 to the town’s administrative assistant stating that Skorput needed to follow requirements for a particular conflict of law exemption, and this was communicated to him.

As of Jan. 9, 2017, Skorput had not filed any conflict of interest law disclosures with the town clerk, nor had he obtained an exemption, and was therefore not in compliance with the requirements of the select board exemption, the order states.

The commission further asserted that Skorput violated conflict of interest law by participating officially in matters that involved his own, as well as his daughter’s, financial interests.

Skorput voted in his capacity as a select board member in 2013 to reappoint himself as fire chief in 2013. As a fire chief, he allegedly determined the amount of firefighter stipends for himself each December in 2013 to 2013 and for Tricia in 2013 and 2014.

He also signed the pay warrants for his daughter’s stipends as a select board member. Skorput previously participated as a select board member in the board’s review of his performance as the town’s fire chief.

Skorput also allegedly set stipends and signed pay warrants for his nephew, who was a firefighter, and voted as a member of the select board to appoint a personal friend to a paid transfer station attendant position. The order alleges that Skorput violated the conflict of interest law’s prohibition against a public employee acting officially on matters under circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to conclude that the employee would likely be unduly influenced or biased in performing his official actions.

Skorput allegedly did not file disclosures sufficient to dispel the appearance of bias, undue influence, or favoritism before acting on these matters.

In 2016, Hallock filed a written complaint to the select board concerning Skorput’s performance as fire chief, and according to the order, Skorput allegedly texted him: “Turn in your gear,” and was subsequently fired.

The order also stated that in his capacity on the select board, Skorput’s official actions created “an appearance of bias, favoritism, or undue influence on several occasions.”

The Board of Health ordered Skorput to take action concerning alleged dumping on his property in 2017. Following that, Skorput voted at a select board meeting against reappointing the town’s health agent and Board of Health chair to other town positions they held, the order alleges.

The state Ethics Commission is an independent, non-partisan agency that operates with five commissioners. A complaint was filed with the panel, but because the commission is subject to strict requirements of confidentiality, the identity of the complainant is confidential, said Gerry Tuoti, public information officer for the commission.

The commission, he added, is authorized to impose a penalty up to $10,000 should Skorput be found guilty. Before filing the order, the enforcement division gives an individual – or his attorney – an opportunity to resolve the matter through a disposition agreement. Should they agree to a settlement, the individual would waive their right to a hearing or right to appeal the matter.

The commission will be scheduling a hearing regarding this matter within 90 days, said Tuoti.

Skorput also came under fire last month, fielding accusations of mismanagement of his department in an open session select board meeting. During the discussion, select board member Eric Shimelonis alleged that Skorput’s mismanagement of the department lack of oversight put a “life and death town department” at risk. In noting the assertions brought forward by the commission, Shimelonis declined to comment.

Bernie Fallon, chair of the board, could not be reached for comment.

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