Joe Alosso cleared by ethics panel
State commission found no conflict while on town boards
More than one year after it first authorized an inquiry, the state Ethics Commission has ended a probe into whether Joe Alosso of Oak Bluffs violated the conflict of interest law while he served on the Oak Bluffs board of health.
The state inquiry arose in connection with Mr. Alosso's construction of a four-bedroom house in 2003, and against the backdrop of Oak Bluffs's rough and tumble brand of personal politics.
Mr. Alosso, facilities manager for the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown wastewater plants, learned of the probe in an Ethics Commission letter dated Feb. 10, 2006, which listed five allegations stemming from his role as a public official who served on several town boards.
At the heart of the probe was the allegation that Mr. Alosso abused his position on town boards to gain approval of a house with four bedrooms, more than ought to have been allowed by existing regulations.
The letter announcing the end of the probe, signed by senior investigator Geeta McGrath, stated: "... on the basis of the staff's report, the Commission voted to terminate the inquiry. This ends the Commission's inquiry, and all records thereof shall remain confidential."
The formal letter contained a handwritten postscript to Mr. Alosso that said, "It's been a pleasure. Good luck."
Monday, Mr. Alosso told The Times that he felt a great sense of relief when he received the letter. "Everything I've ever done for this town has been for the benefit of the town. I've certainly never done anything unethical, and I'm relieved the state Ethics Commission has agreed," Mr. Alosso said. "I felt euphoric. It felt like a huge weight off my shoulders."
Mr. Alosso's sense of relief is tempered by the fact that he is appealing a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) ruling and fines stemming from his construction of the same house. The DEP filed a motion in 2005, claiming that Mr. Alosso violated eight state rules, including using his septic system before obtaining a certificate of compliance and building too large of a septic system for the size of his lot. He was ordered to pay $28,000 in fines.
Mr. Alosso hired a lawyer, Donald Nagle of Plymouth, and appealed the ruling. In October 2005, the judge in the case ordered the investigation to stop, in order to attempt to resolve the case without a hearing. A decision from the judge and the DEP is pending.
All along, Mr. Alosso has claimed that the previously existing house he replaced had four bedrooms. The question of how many bedrooms existed in the pre-existing house and the documentation surrounding the project are at the heart of that case. He maintains that there were four bedrooms in the house when he purchased the property, and that he had done nothing wrong.
Mr. Alosso's critics, including Oak Bluffs political figure Linda Marinelli and Jonathan Revere of West Tisbury, a political gadfly who acknowledged contacting the DEP regarding Mr. Alosso, found a willing sounding board at the Vineyard Gazette.
The two probes and the accusations against Mr. Alosso received frequent and extensive news coverage. "People tend to believe what they hear, and they tend to believe what they read," Mr. Alosso said of the Gazette's news coverage. "I think a lot of people assume guilt, without knowing the real facts behind it."
Mr. Alosso said that what he considered negative and unbalanced coverage has had a lingering effect on him and his family. "I think the Gazette coverage was negative coverage. I think it hurt my reputation," Mr. Alosso said. "I hope deep down that those people who really knew me...knew that the story was a bogus story to begin with. It's a price you pay when you're in politics and you have a public official's position."
At the time, Kerry Scott, current chairman of the Oak Bluffs selectmen, was among those who publicly questioned Mr. Alosso's behavior. On Tuesday, Ms. Scott said she preferred not to comment on Mr. Alosso's exoneration.
Mr. Revere said Tuesday, "I'm looking forward to Mr. Alosso's final day in court."
The ethics commission ruling did little to lessen the rancor and distrust that has permeated the on-going story. In conversations with a Times reporter, Ms. Scott and Mr. Revere questioned the origin of the postscript on the Ethics Commission's letter, and both implied that Mr. Alosso might be guilty of forgery.
"I really think this letter from this chief investigator bears looking into, as to whether she really put that on there. I find that really quite egregious," Mr. Revere said.
Wednesday, a spokesman for the Ethics Commission told The Times that while he could not comment directly or even acknowledge the existence of the letter it would not be unusual for the postscript as described to appear on a letter.
Summing it all up, Mr. Alosso said, "Politics can be a really nasty game, and if you don't agree with everybody, then people will attack you personally, they will attack your family, they'll attack your job, they'll attack you any way they can to further their agenda. And that's sad."