No letter of reprimand following Blackstone investigation

No letter of reprimand following Blackstone investigation

BLACKSTONE – Three months after launching an investigation into the actions of several town officials, the Board of Selectmen has voted not to reprimand one of its members accused of violating conflict-of-interest law.

The board voted 4-0 last week against issuing a letter of reprimand to Selectman Daniel Keefe, a decision counter to the recommendations of a report by attorney Barry Pollack. Keefe, who was identified in the report as violating conflict-of-interest rules by advocating for changes to a series of proposed CARES Act payments that would have benefited his wife, recused himself from the vote.

At the same time, board members voted 3-0 to forward the findings to the State Ethics Commission for their consideration. In addition to Keefe, the report discussed actions by Selectman Robert Dubois and Town Administrator Daniel Keyes.

Last Tuesday, Nov. 10, was the first time the full board met since the release of the report in late October. The findings were controversial, with Keefe defending his actions and questioning why the investigation didn’t delve further into a decision by Keyes to offer raises and bonuses to certain employees. Selectwoman Taylor Greene also raised issues with the report, accusing her fellow investigation subcommittee members of choosing Pollack’s firm without her input.

Those arguments were on full display during Tuesday’s meeting, when Pollack spent more than three hours defending his report to town officials amid comments by Greene and Keefe. Greene accused him of misrepresenting the comments of some employees, failing to interview key witnesses and committing various spelling errors in the 15-page report, which was the result of close to two months of investigation.

Responding, Pollack said Keefe and Greene were trying to distract from the “real issues,” namely, what he called “flagrant violations of conflicts of interest” by Keefe.

“You’ve had a lot to say, but not a lot to say about your conflict of interest without acknowledging it,” Pollack told Keefe later in the meeting.

The report revolves around a July 1 meeting between Keefe, Dubois and Keyes during which the three men discussed a series of payments proposed by Keyes using CARES Act funds. By his own admission, Keefe suggested a “fair and equitable” system that would have resulted in a higher payment for his wife than the one Keyes originally proposed, but has said he only participated in the meeting out of concern the payments were unauthorized and did not plan to vote on them if and when they came before the full board.

Both Keefe and Dubois have wives who work for the town and were included on the list of employees set to receive payments.

Board members on Tuesday seemed eager to move past the controversy, with several stating they did not think a letter of reprimand would do anything to resolve the division that has affected the town since July.

A more controversial vote was on Pollack’s recommendation that the town reopen an investigation into certain members of the Blackstone Police Department. According to the report, former Police Chief Ross Atstupenas was in the process of investigating the conduct of several officers, including current Chief Gregory Gilmore, when the entire department was placed under investigation by the Board of Selectmen last year. Atstupenas later separated from the department without completing his investigation, according to the report.

Pollack recommended reopening the investigation into certain officers, a suggestion that drew fierce pushback from Greene and Keefe. Dubois also said he didn’t support reopening the investigation, citing a potential lawsuit on the matter.

The board ultimately voted 3-2 not to reopen the investigation, with Selectman Robert Kluchevitz and Selectwoman Mary Bulso voting in favor.

The episode concludes the town’s second large-scale investigation in fewer than 18 months. The subcommittee hired Pollack Solomon Duffy to complete the most recent report at a cost of $20,000.