In the Matter of Olimpia Palazzola
December 16, 2008
The State Ethics Commission and Olimpia Palazzola enter into this Disposition Agreement pursuant to Section 5 of the Commission's Enforcement Procedures. This Agreement constitutes a consented-to final order enforceable in the Superior Court, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, s. 4(j).
On September 21, 2007, the Commission initiated, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, section 4(a), a preliminary inquiry into possible violations of the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, by Palazzola. The Commission has concluded its inquiry and, on April 17, 2008, found reasonable cause to believe that Palazzola violated G.L. c. 268A.
The Commission and Palazzola now agree to the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:
Findings of Fact
- Palazzola was an elected member of the City of Gloucester School Committee from January, 2006 to December, 2007.
- Palazzola's son, Keith, was a special education teacher at Gloucester High School ("GHS").
- On April 9, 2007, upon his return to GHS after being out on an extended medical leave, Keith and his supervisor, Barbara Sachs, had a verbal confrontation.
- Keith then called Palazzola (his mother), reported the altercation with Sachs, which he described as harassment, and asked Palazzola to come to the school.
- At approximately 7:00 a.m., Palazzola arrived at GHS and met with Sachs. Palazzola repeated to Sachs what Keith had told her about his interaction with Sachs that morning. According to Palazzola, Sachs offered an explanation that was critical of Keith. Palazzola was not satisfied with the explanation, and she terminated the conversation. As Palazzola left that meeting, she said to Sachs, "The harassment has to stop."
- On the same morning, GHS Principal Joseph Sullivan was scheduled to meet with Keith and Keith's union representative regarding a pending personnel matter.
- When Palazzola, Keith, and Keith's union representative arrived at Sullivan's office, Sullivan told Palazzola that she could not attend the meeting because it was a personnel meeting and that the union represented Keith. Palazzola left the principal's office.
- According to Palazzola, she then called Superintendent Christopher Farmer, who was not in. Assistant Superintendent Brian Tarr was in, and Palazzola asked him to come to GHS and attend the meeting, because Keith believed he was being harassed. When Palazzola saw Tarr, she explained to him what she believed to be the history of Keith being harassed. Tarr then went into the meeting.
- While the meeting continued, Palazzola was able to reach Superintendent Farmer by phone and ask him to come to the meeting.
- Palazzola did not attend the meeting.
- After the meeting, Palazzola traveled to Superintendent Farmer's office and talked with both Farmer and Tarr. Palazzola explained that her son and others were being harassed by the GHS administration and asked Farmer to look into this issue because she was worried about Keith's health. Farmer explained to Palazzola that the School Committee does not have a role in personnel matters involving teachers. This conversation lasted approximately one hour.
- As a member of the Gloucester School Committee, Palazzola was at all times relevant a municipal employee as defined by G.L. c. 268A s. 1(g).
- Section 17(c) of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a municipal employee, otherwise than in the proper discharge of official duties, from acting as agent for anyone other than the municipality, in connection with any particular matter in which the same municipality is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.
- Keith's harassment claim against the GHS administration was a particular matter.
- The City of Gloucester had a direct and substantial interest in Keith's harassment claim against the GHS administration.
- Palazzola acted as Keith's agent in connection with this particular matter by appearing at GHS on April 9, 2007, at Keith's request and confronting his supervisor Sachs prior to the GHS administration's meeting to discuss Keith's personnel issue and stating to her "The harassment has to stop"; and by meeting with Superintendent Farmer and Assistant Superintendent Tarr to discuss Keith's harassment claim against the GHS administration.
- Therefore, Palazzola violated section 17(c).
Conclusions of Law
In view of the foregoing violations of G.L. c. 268A by Palazzola, the Commission has determined that the public interest would be served by the disposition of this matter without further enforcement proceedings, on the basis of the following terms and conditions agreed to by Palazzola:
(1) that Palazzola pay to the Commission $2,000.00 as a civil penalty for violating G. L. c. 268A s. 17; and that Palazzola waive all rights to contest, in this or any other administrative or judicial proceeding to which the Commission is or may be a party, the findings of fact, conclusions of law and terms and conditions contained in this Agreement.
STATE ETHICS COMMISSION