Our Opinion: A cautionary tale in North Adams

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"No good deed goes unpunished" is the phrase that former North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright applied to the fine handed down by the State Ethics Commission to John DeRosa, the mayor's former city solicitor (Eagle, March 28). Another saying that might apply is "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

The commission found that the city solicitor was in conflict because while he served as the legal adviser to North Adams he was also advising the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art as a private attorney and as a member of the MoCA's board of trustees. This was at a time when MoCA was exploring redevelopment of Western Gateway Heritage State Park in the city. The commission also flagged Mr. DeRosa for representing Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum developer Thomas Krens and directing the private nonprofit North Adams Partnership while serving as city solicitor. He received over $50,000 from the partnership, which is a large enough sum to require the recipient to be on notice of a potential conflict charge. The commission fined Mr. DeRosa $7,500.

All parties may well have wanted what was best for North Adams. Mr. DeRosa was not accused of taking bribes, and there is no evidence, as the mayor said, that there was "bad intent" on Mr. DeRosa's part. However, the residents of North Adams deserved to be completely confident that the city solicitor had only their interests at heart. And with City Solicitor DeRosa also acting on behalf of private interests doing significant business with the city, they were deprived of this confidence. That is the fall-out of what the Ethics Commission correctly ruled as a conflict of interest.

This ruling is a cautionary tale for North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard and members of his administration. Mass MoCA has been of great benefit to the city and continues to explore ways of doing more in the city. Mr. Krens recently presented a series of ambitious plans that could if realized also benefit the city, and we hope will at the least boost Heritage Park, an underutilized city asset that has defied attempts at revival in recent years. But while the city works with them and others on various projects, residents must be confident that the administration is looking out for their tax money and their interests. For that to happen, members of the administration must be free of conflicts of interest, or even the appearance of possible conflicts of interest, involving private organizations and individuals doing business with the city.

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