News of the Zoning Board of Appeals
ZBA member fined $1,250 by state ethics panel
(Reprinted from The Berkshire Eagle without
by Erik Arvidson
Eagle Statehouse Bureau
Tuesday, October 23, 2001
BOSTON -- The state Ethics Commission has fined the chairman of the
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
© 1999-2001 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and New England
Editor's Note: In a letter dated October 26th, 2001, board chairman
Peter S. Vallianos submitted his resignation to the Monterey Zoning Board