Mike Rotondi, a candidate for state representative, says his 2003 ethics violation was “a disappointment” and the issue will have little bearing on his candidacy.

Mike Rotondi, a candidate for state representative, says his 2003 ethics violation was “a disappointment” and the issue will have little bearing on his candidacy.

In 2005, the Massachusetts Ethics Commission penalized Rotondi for violating state ethics laws.

According to the Ethics Commission, Rotondi orchestrated a pay raise for himself while serving as Stoneham Town Moderator in May 2003 in violation of state law regarding the conduct of public officials in financial matters. The raise would have made him eligible for a lucrative town pension plan.

“That was a very disappointing situation,” Rotondi said last week. “I didn’t realize at the time, but I do now, that I made a mistake and I’m moving forward.”

Rotondi is a newly declared Democratic candidate for the 31st Middlesex District State Representative seat. He is running against fellow Democrat Jason Lewis and Republican candidate Brian O’Connor, the vice-chairman of the Winchester Board of Selectmen. Rep. Paul Casey recently announced he would not seek re-election to the position he’s held for 20 years.

On May 5, 2003, Rotondi inserted a warrant article into the Stoneham Town Meeting agenda asking for authorization to transfer $5 from the Town Moderator’s operational account to increase his annual salary from $200 to $205, thus putting his salary over the $200 threshold needed to receive a pension.

When several Town Meeting members questioned why the raise was necessary, they didn’t receive a complete explanation, according to the Ethics Commission.

“Rotondi stated from the podium that the increase was a clerical accounting matter; he did not explain the reasoning behind and the effects of the increase,” wrote the Ethics Commission in a statement regarding the case.

Prior to taking the issue to Town Meeting, Rotondi approached Stoneham’s retirement board, which ruled that he was not eligible for the pension. Rotondi then lobbied to get the article on the Town Meeting warrant.

“Enrollment in the town pension system would have significant financial benefits for Rotondi including potential health insurance and pension benefits,” the Ethics Commission wrote.

The raise was initially approved by the town, and then rescinded two months later.

Rotondi subsequently agreed to pay a $2,000 fine to the Ethics Commission in February 2005. An ethics violation can carry up to a $3,000 fine and two years in prison.

“When public officials preside over matters that could result in significant personal benefit, public trust in government is eroded,” said former Ethics Commission Executive Director Peter Sturges in a statement. “With few exceptions, elected officials must abstain from acting in such matters.”

Asked whether he thinks it could hurt his chances in winning the Democratic nomination for Casey’s seat, Rotondi said, “I think it has very little effect at this point; it’s an old issue.

“I learned from it and I’m moving forward,” he added. “I’m going to be talking to voters about the issues that matter to this community.”

Stoneham Selectman Frank Vallarelli has known Rotondi for about 14 years and thinks the ethics violation was a witch-hunt.

“All Michael was trying to do was to get on a level playing field,” he said, pointing out that several other town officials are on the town’s retirement plan. “That’s small-town politics, it’s petty crap.”

Finance Committee member Richard Gregorio also came to Rotondi’s defense.

“I’ve known Mike for a long time” he said. “Mike has an intimate knowledge of what’s going on at the local level both in Winchester and Stoneham. I support his candidacy.”

Current Ethics Commission Executive Director Karen Nober was unaware of any further public ethics matters concerning Rotondi.

When a complaint is received by the Ethics Commission it goes through a screening process and the commission determines if the issue warrants further attention, according to Nober.

Rotondi has served as Stoneham Town Moderator for almost 16 years, and continues to serve in that position.

Eric Tsetsi can be reached at 781-674-7731 or etsetsi@cnc.com.