Editor's Note: The following information is from a press release from the State Ethics Commission.
The State Ethics Commission has approved a Disposition Agreement in which former Norwood School Committee Chairman Mark Joseph was forced to pay a $5,000 penalty for violating Conflict of Interest laws, a press release stated Tuesday.
Joseph admitted to violating G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by having school employees transport surplus cafeteria equipment to his privately owned restaurant in the summer of 2011, during the transfer from the old high school to the new building. Pursuant to the agreement, Joseph paid a $5,000 civil penalty, and also reimbursed the Town of Norwood $511.76 for the costs of using public school custodians and vehicles to move the equipment.
According to the admission made in the agreement, on or about June 23, 2011, Joseph contacted school administrators to ask if he could take some of the cafeteria equipment and donate it to the Norwood Food Pantry. Joseph was directed to contact the management company overseeing the construction project, and to speak with the high school principal’s secretary for assistance.
In preparation for the move, school employees had been advised to use color-coded labels to mark equipment that would be moved to other district schools or Town agencies before the old high school was demolished.
On June 24, 2011, Joseph went to the high school principal’s office and spoke with the secretary about his plans. He also left a voicemail message for the management company contact person about the equipment. The secretary gave Joseph labels to write his name and “food pantry” on any items he wished to have donated. The secretary stated that she would not have provided the labels if Joseph had not been a School Committee member. Joseph never spoke to the management company contact person, nor did he receive permission from the project manager, the Norwood Public Schools Superintendent or the School Committee to take the equipment for non-school purposes.
Joseph marked warming tables, cold serving tables, steel tables, 16-crate capacity milk coolers, a folding transition table, a fire extinguisher and 40-gallon trash barrels with labels reading “Mark Joseph – Food Pantry.” That same day, Joseph obtained the assistance of six Norwood Public Schools custodians to transport the equipment during their regular work hours to Joseph's restaurant, The Take Away. Two or three of the items were placed inside the restaurant, and the rest were put in a storage closet in the basement of the building.
None of the equipment was ever brought to the Norwood Food Pantry, which had no use for the equipment in the first place. Joseph claimed that he planned to give any equipment the food pantry did not want to The Abundant Table, another local charity, but admitted that he had not contacted either charity prior to removing the items from the high school.
The NPS Superintendent learned about the equipment move and instructed Joseph to return all the items to the school the next day, a job that required two custodians working overtime as well as a school-owned truck. The equipment was then turned over to a salvage company. Superintendent James Hayden valued the equipment at $2,950, and the costs incurred by the Town for the custodians to transport the equipment to be $511.76.
Joseph resigned from the School Committee approximately one week after the incident.
Section 23(b)(2)(ii) of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a municipal employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, using or attempting to use his official position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges or exemptions which are of substantial value and which are not properly available to similar situated individuals. By using his position as School Committee Chairman to acquire the school kitchen equipment for his own private use and to use Town resources to transport the equipment, Joseph violated the conflict of interest law.