State to look into West Stockbridge fire chief over conflict-of-interest allegations
WEST STOCKBRIDGE — The state Ethics Commission announced Wednesday that it had found reason to investigate the town's longtime fire chief for violating conflict-of-interest law multiple times in his current position at the Fire Department and formerly as a Select Board member.
Allegations filed by the commission's Enforcement Division say that Peter Skorput, 61, had engaged in numerous instances of financial and nepotistic improprieties that include setting stipends for himself and two family members, voting to reappoint himself fire chief and terminating a firefighter who had filed a complaint against him.
"Skorput's official actions created an appearance of bias, favoritism, or undue influence on several occasions," read a statement from the commission.
The commission has filed an order to show cause for a hearing on the allegations, and it will be scheduled within 90 days.
Skorput could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Two Select Board members, Chairman Bernie Fallon and Eric Shimelonis, declined to speak about the matter. Fallon, reached at his work, said he had not yet seen the notice.
The allegations come after a tempestuous time for town officials and Skorput, whose administrative, ethical and safety practices in the 18-member volunteer department came under fire, mostly from Shimelonis, at a packed Select Board meeting last month.
Shimelonis, a former firefighter, had come armed with a consultant's studies from 2016 that found bookkeeping, training and other lapses in the department. Skorput, who makes a $500 annual stipend, denied the accusations of missteps.
The Ethics Commission said that Skorput, a Select Board member from 2013 to 2017, set stipends and signed pay warrants for his daughter and nephew, both firefighters.
In 2016, a fire lieutenant filed a written complaint to the board about Skorput's performance. Retaliation came next, according to the commission.
"Skorput allegedly texted him, `Turn in your gear,' and then fired him," according to the complaint.
The commission also said that, in 2017, Skorput retaliated against members of the town's Health Department by not reappointing them, after they asked him to take action regarding dumping on his land. That same year, Skorput "voted as a Select Board member to appoint a personal friend to a paid transfer station attendant position."
Skorput has been a volunteer with the Fire Department for 35 years.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
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