Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 5, 2011

PA Commonwealth Court Upholds Finding of Ethics Violation Where Council Member Voted to Approve a Land Development Where His Company Serviced as General Contractor

Ethics Commission filed a complaint against a former member and president of a Borough Council for violating the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act. Petitioner was ordered to pay $25,000 in restitution to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for using the authority of his public office for private gain.  Specifically, petitioner was found guilty based on his vote to approve a land development project where his construction company served as the general contractor. Petitioner sought to dismiss the complaint.

The issue on appeal was whether the Investigation Division at the ethics commission could amend a timely-filed Findings Report that was beyond the time period offered in the statute.  Here, the Court looked the General Rules of Administrative Practice and Procedure (GRAPP) as well as to the Ethics Act.  The Court determined that the plain language of the Ethics Act conflicted with GRAPP’s amendment provisions but because there was a conflict, the Ethics Act would prevail.

Here, the Court noted that the Ethics Act set a deadline of 180 days for the issuance of a Findings Report unless the Investigation Division executive director obtains an extension.  Further, the Ethics Act permits extensions on the issuance of a Findings Report so long as there is approval from the Ethics Commission. Despite the extension, a 360 period is set forth. The Court agreed with Petitioner that the Investigation Division erred by issuing the Amended Findings Report beyond the 360 day period.  Despite agreeing with petitioner on the time period, the Court agreed with the Ethics Commission that the timely-filed Initial Findings Report was sufficient to support the Commission’s decision. Moreover, the Court determined that the Commission did not err when it found petitioner had violated the Ethics Act when he signed various documents approving a project for which his company was involved.  The Court noted that there was no question that petitioner was a public official as defined by the Ethics Act when he signed the documents and he used his authority as a public official for personal gain.

G.L. v. State Ethics Commission,  2011 WL 904153 (Pa. Cmwlth.,  3/17/ 2011)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.aopc.org/OpPosting/Cwealth/out/106CD10_3-17-11.pdf


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