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News of the Zoning Board of Appeals

Monterey ZBA member fined $1,250 by state ethics panel

(Reprinted from The Berkshire Eagle without permission.)
by Erik Arvidson
Eagle Statehouse Bureau
Tuesday, October 23, 2001

BOSTON -- The state Ethics Commission has fined the chairman of the Monterey Zoning Board of Appeals for allegedly helping two clients of his law practice receive a favorable zoning ruling.

Peter Vallianos was fined $1,250 by the Ethics Commission for becoming "significantly" involved at a July 7, 2000 Zoning Board hearing.  Vallianos recused himself from the board but acted on behalf of his clients who were seeking a special permit, the commission said.

Daniel and Georgianna Eschen of Monterey were seeking ZBA approval to expand their cottage and Vallianos, who is also a Great Barrington attorney, participated in a 20-minute discussion with the ZBA members, according to the commission.

"In retrospect, it was an error in judgment," Vallianos said in an interview.  "I was drawn into the conversation, and I intentionally didn't make any legal argument, I only explained a drawing.  I don't even think now that I unduly influenced [the ZBA]."

The state ethics law prohibits a municipal employee from "acting as an agent for anyone other than the municipality in connection with a particular matter in which the municipality is a party or has a direct and substantial interest."  The disposition agreement Vallianos signed with the Ethics Commission said that Vallianos informed the secretary of the ZBA beforehand that he should not be scheduled to participate in the Eschens' hearing because he was their attorney. 

Vallianos then attended the hearing and told the Zoning Board that he was the Eschens' attorney and could not represent them.  But he said he would still be available to answer questions about the Eschens' application, which was for a permit to build an addition to their cottage at 11 Sylvan Road, according to the agreement.

Peter Murkett, another Zoning Board member, filled in for Vallianos as chairman during the hearing.

The agreement said that Vallianos "became significantly involved" in the hearing and "contributed extensively to the discussion preceding the vote."  He was not paid to appear at the hearing.

The Ethics Commission found that Vallianos "had no independent interest in the matter separate to his role as attorney" and that Vallianos' claim that he was not at the meeting to represent the Eschens was not a legitimate defense.

Vallianos said he had agreed to the facts of the case and paid the fine "rather than drag it out," even though he disagreed that his involvement at the hearing was a conflict of interest.

He added that he thought the ethics board "made too much out of it."

"The commission may conclude that an attorney is acting on behalf of  his client even if he states that he is not," said Peter Sturges, executive director of the Ethics Commission.  "More colloquially, actions often speak louder than words."

Carol Carson, a spokeswoman for the Ethics Commission, said that her agency could not confirm how it began investigating the Monterey case, specifically as to whether it was prompted by a complaint.


Erik Arvidson can be reached at earvidson@lowellsun.com

© 1999-2001 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and New England Newspapers, Inc.


MontereyNews.org Editor's Note:  In a letter dated October 26th, 2001, board chairman Peter S. Vallianos submitted his resignation to the Monterey Zoning Board of Appeals.

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