Ethics complaint against Ethics Commission
Jack Authelet, the retired managing editor of the Foxboro Reporter weekly newspaper, filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission after what he said were inappropriate remarks by a commission representative during a presentation to Foxboro town employees.
Here is his complaint and a response from Judge Charles Swartwood, executive director of the ethics commission.
Seven Baker Street
Foxboro, Massachusetts 02035-1903
Karen L. Nober, Executive Director
March 24, 2010
State Ethics Commission
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Dear Commissioner Nober,
On February 27, I called your office and filed a complaint of what I called unethical statements made by David Gianotti, a representative of the State Ethics Commission at a seminar the prior evening, February 26 in Foxboro on Conflict of Interest.
After speaking with two members of your staff to share details of the presentation that prompted my filing of a complaint, I received a personal call from you, at which time I restated my case. You listened as I explained the situation, agreed that some inappropriate comments were made, while telling me what your representative should have said.
This exchange left me uneasy, in that at no time was I asked to state my complaint in writing. My discomfort was compounded when receiving no written confirmation that a complaint had been filed. I was left to wonder just how seriously the State Ethics Commission took my complaint. Feedback from seminars on the subject held since that time might cause one to suggest the complaint was not taken seriously at all. Consequently, my complaint is being restated here, in writing.
On February 26, a Conflict of Interest Seminar was presented on behalf of the State Ethics Commission by your representative, David Gianotti, to public officials representing the Town of Foxborough.
Gross misrepresentations made by Mr. Gianotti during that program constitute the single most offensive ethics violation I have ever witnessed.
During the session, Mr. Gianotti made reference to newspapers, then quickly caught himself and asked if there were media present or if the presentation was being covered. Getting no response, he proceeded to savage newspapers, cautioning those in attendance that about the worst thing that could happen to them as public officials was to engage in something that caught the attention of newspapers. With comments like “they seldom get it right anyway,” he launched into a tirade about “all the newspaper wants to do is savage your reputation,” repeating the phrase many times while fanning the flames of his rhetoric with “page one, above the fold.”
It sounded to me like a pathetic attempt to enforce a higher degree of compliance with the law than the State Ethics Commission could achieve through education by putting fear into the public officials present that failure to comply would subject them to having their reputations savaged by the newspapers.
Later in the program, he disparaged a town board stating it voted not to comply with the mandate of the Conflict of Interest on-line testing program your agency initiated when of course they had to, and a police department in which officers said they had not bargained over this in their contract and “wanted to be paid three hours for 15 minutes” or words to that effect.
It is beyond comprehension for me to understand what any of this has to do with a Conflict of Interest Seminar presented by a representative of the State Ethics Commission. This was as flagrant a violation of ethics as I had ever witnessed and it came at the hands of an agency that claims to have essentially written the book on the subject.
I did not raise my hand in response to Mr. Gianoti’s question as to the presence of media since I am retired from newspapers and was not covering the session but his knowledge of newspapers is obviously flawed or, giving him the benefit of the doubt, misunderstood. For many years, I was the Massachusetts Sunshine Chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists (emphasis on the word professional) and did programs throughout the state on access to records, court reporting, ethics, conflicts and other subjects working with representatives of the Massachusetts Bar Association as well as Attorney General Scott Harshbarger.
As an officer of the Massachusetts Press Association, I was central to the filing of the Police Log Bill (seven years in the making). We were there from Day One on CORI legislation, maintained a Bench/Bar/Press committee to improve court reporting and we were first in the trenches with reporting violations which I believe is a proud record for an industry that some might believe was more interested in trashing reputations.
I did not speak up during this disgraceful violation of ethics and common decency during his program as I believe it would have left his reputation in tatters and detracted from the importance of the seminar for the dedicated public servants in attendance. But the presentation was a disgrace and I urge an immediate cessation of such presentations until the State Ethics Commission can deal with its own violations and corrects the record in each of those communities where such a misleading portrayal of legitimate news media was presented.
I publicly acknowledge your stated displeasure with statements made, and I accept what you maintain the presenter should have said, but my concern is that little has changed.
It is my carefully considered position that the State Ethics Commission of Massachusetts has left me no choice but to make my complaint in writing and further to go public with the complaint as the only way some public officials will ever come to realize that many inappropriate remarks were made during the presentation and the media would know how it is being characterized by a representative of the State Ethics Commission. Most regretfully, you have left me no choice.
Jack Sullivan is the senior investigative reporter at CommonWealth magazine