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Ethics probe into ex-Canton agent

The state Ethics Commission is investigating former Canton conservation agent Robert J. Murphy’s ties to M&M Engineering Inc., a firm that was involved in several projects in the town.

Corporation records list Murphy as the president and lone officer of M&M Engineering. A Globe review of town records had found that a number of M&M Engineering projects in Canton were approved by the local Conservation Commission while Murphy was working as the town’s conservation agent under a contract between the town and Danena Inc., a consulting and engineering firm Murphy owns.

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The Ethics Commission recently issued a summons for the town of Canton to produce any records from Jan. 1, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2012 that detail Murphy’s relationship with M&M Engineering and Danena.

According to a copy of the summons obtained by the Globe, the Ethics Commission asked for “any and all records” that show Murphy’s relationship with M&M Engineering; Murphy’s involvement in projects for which M&M is listed as the engineer; and Murphy’s involvement in Conservation Commission matters related to M&M Engineering and Danena. According to the summons, such records may include meeting minutes, executive session meeting minutes, agreements, letters, e-mails, and other correspondence.

Murphy maintains there’s no conflict in his role with the town. “I didn’t violate my contract with the town of Canton,” he said in an interview Thursday.

The Ethics Commission issued the summons for documents on July 11, and the town was expected to have delivered the records to the state agency by 5 p.m. on July 26.

Canton Town Clerk Tracy Kenney declined to comment. “I have nothing to say about it,” she said.

Murphy had served as Canton’s conservation agent for 22 years when he was suddenly ousted from the position in November. His most recent contract was to run from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2014.

Corporation records show that M&M Engineering was incorporated in Delaware in April 2011, and Murphy is listed as its president. Murphy is also listed as M&M’s president on annual franchise tax reports filed in January 2012 and 2013.

According to Canton Conservation Commission executive session minutes obtained by the Globe, questions about a potential conflict of interest involving Murphy first came up last fall when commission members discovered that Murphy was president of M&M Engineering.

The minutes indicated that commission members were concerned Murphy’s apparent dual role could be in violation of the state’s conflict-of-interest law. The members said they did not know of Murphy’s ties to M&M Engineering when they considered permit applications submitted by builders using M&M’s services, according to the minutes.

Danena’s contract with Canton shows that the firm was hired to provide services that a conservation agent typically would do. It called for the consultant to participate and provide support at Conservation Commission meetings, to make recommendations to the Conservation Commission on matters involving wetland protection, and provide telephone consultation and site evaluation on a regular basis.

The contract also states that “Robert Murphy is a principal in Danena Inc., a company that does civil engineering and MGL, Chapter 268A, Section 17 [of the state’s conflict of interest law] will prevent Mr. Murphy from acting as an agent for any party other than the town in which the town has a direct and substantial interest. Therefore Mr. Murphy will not personally act as an agent for a third party.”

Reached by phone Thursday, Murphy said he was aware of the contract language and asserted that he never violated the terms of the pact.

“That’s been my contract for 22 years, and it’s on the public record,” said Murphy. “I’ve always been the principal of an engineering company. I didn’t violate my contract with the town of Canton.”

The Ethics Commission took a majority vote to authorize its summons for documents as part of what’s known as a “preliminary inquiry.”

When the Ethics Commission’s enforcement division conducts such an inquiry, it reports the results of its investigation to the five appointed members of the commission, and if the commissioners believe the conflict-of-interest law may have been violated, a public hearing is held and the subject of the complaint can present evidence and testimony on his or her own behalf.

After the hearing, the commissioners will decide whether there was a violation of the conflict law and what penalties, if any, will be assessed.

Marisa Donelan, spokeswoman for the commission, said she was unable to comment due to confidentiality requirements.

“I cannot confirm or deny whether the commission has received a complaint or is conducting an investigation,” she said.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney
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