Docket No. 331
In the Matter of Marguerite Coughlin
November 5, 1987
This Disposition Agreement (Agreement) is entered into between
the State Ethics Commission (Commission) and Marguerite Coughlin
(Mrs. Coughlin) pursuant to section 11 of the Commission's
Enforcement Procedures. This Agreement constitutes a consented to
final Commission order enforceable in the Superior Court pursuant
to G.L. c. 268B, s.4(j).
On July 29,1986, the Commission initiated a preliminary inquiry,
pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, s.4(a), into possible violations of the
conflict of interest law, G.L. c.
268A, involving Mrs. Coughlin, a member of the Beverly Planning
Board. The Commission has concluded that preliminary inquiry and,
on October 6, 1986, found reasonable cause to believe that Mrs.
Coughlin violated G.L. c. 268A, s.19.
The parties now agree to the following findings of fact and
conclusions of law:
1. Mrs. Coughlin is a member of the Beverly Planning Board,
having been appointed as such by the mayor in January, 1985. In
that capacity, she is a municipal employee within the meaning of
G.L. c. 268A, s.1(g).
2. Mrs. Coughlin lives at 4 Frankwood Avenue in Beverly in a
single family house owned by her and her husband. The Coughlins'
property abuts at one corner property owned by Robert and Kathleen
Gilligan (the Gilligans) at 74 Dodge Street in Beverly.
3. In the Spring of 1985, the Gilligans petitioned the Beverly
Board of Appeal of the Zoning Ordinance (Zoning Board) for a
variance so as to be able to convert an existing barn into a three-
4. A hearing was held by the Zoning Board on the Gilligans'
petition on May 14, 1985. The Coughlins received official notice
of the variance petition hearing as "parties in interest" pursuant
to G.L. c. 40A, s.s.10 and 11. Zoning Board action was deferred on
the petition until June 11,1985, to allow the Coughlins, as direct
abutters, to reach an agreement with the Gilligans regarding the
proposal. No such agreement was reached.
5. A special meeting of the Planning Board was held onJune
10,1985. At the meeting, the Board considered whether to send
recommendations to the Zoning Board concerning the Gilligans'
petition and another petition for a variance. It was usual at the
time for the Planning Board to send such advisory recommendations
either by vote of the members or at the discretion of the Planning
Director and the chair.
6. Mrs. Coughlin voted in favor of a motion by another member
to recommend that the Zoning Board deny the Gilligans' petition.
The motion, which required a simple majority for approval, passed
by a 6-2 vote. It is Mrs. Coughlin's position that she did not
participate in the discussion of the Gilligans' petition before
this vote because she did not think that, being an abutter to the
Gilligans, she should influence the other Planning Board members.
The Planning Board's recommendation was advisory in nature and not
binding on the Zoning Board.
7. At the June 11,1985, meeting of the Zoning Board, the letter
from the Planning Board recommending the denial of the Gilligans'
petition was read. Four votes were necessary for the Zoning Board
to allow the variance; the variance petition was denied by a vote
of three votes for allowance and two for denial.
8. After the denial of their variance petition, the Gilligans
obtained a Superior Court order remanding the matter to the Zoning
Board on the ground that the Gilligans had not been notified of
the June 10,1985 Planning Board meeting and had not had an
opportunity to be heard at it. At its October 15,1985 meeting, the
Zoning Board reconsidered the matter and voted 4-1 to grant the
9. Section 19 of G.L. c. 268A provides that, except as permitted
by s.19, a municipal employee is prohibited from participating
as such in a particular matter in which, to his knowledge, he or
his immediate family has a financial interest.
10. The Planning Board decision on the motion to recommend that
the Zoning Board deny the Gilligans petition was a particular
matter, Mrs. Coughlin participated as a municipal employee in this
particular matter by voting on the motion as a Planning Board
member. She and her husband had, to her knowledge, a financial
interest in this particular matter as abutters to the Gilligan's
property. By her vote, therefore, Mrs. Coughlin violated s.19.
11. The Commission recognizes that the Coughlin's financial
interest in the particular matter in question, while sufficient to
constitute a financial interest within the meaning of s.19,
probably was slight and, in any event, cannot readily be
quantified. Although the fact that the municipal employee's
financial interest in the particular matter is slight and not
quantifiable is not a defense to a charge that the employee
violated s.19, it is a factor which may be considered in
determining the proper sanction to be imposed for the violation.
12. The evidence shows that Mrs. Coughlin did not intentionally
violate the conflict of interest law.
Based on the foregoing facts, and having given due consideration
to the above-described mitigating circumstance of the uncertain and
apparently minimal nature of the Coughlins' financial interest in
the Gilligans' petition, the Commission has determined that the
public interest would be served by the resolution of this matter
without further enforcement proceedings, and without the payment
of a fine by Mrs. Coughlin, on the basis of Mrs. Coughlin's
entrance into this Agreement and upon following terms and
conditions agreed to by Mrs. Coughlin:
1. that she will not participate as a member of the Beverly
Planning Board in any matter as to which she is a party in
interest as defined in G.L. c. 40, s.11 or in which she has a
financial interest within the meaning of G.L. c. 268A, s.19;
2. that she waive all rights to contest the findings of fact,
conclusions of law and conditions contained in this Agreement
in this or any related administrative or judicial proceeding
in which the Commission is or may be a party.
 None of the exceptions applies in this case.
 Voting on a particular matter, even without taking part in the
discussion before the vote, is enough to constitute participation
under s.19,just as taking
part in the discussion ofa matter is enough for participation, even
if one does not vote.
 The Commission has previously indicated that "parties in
interest" as defined by M.G.L. c. 40A, s.11 have a financial
interest within the meaning of G.L.c. 268A, s.19 in the particular
matter as to which they are parties in interest, regardless of
whether or not the financial interest is in fact substantial and
whether or not it is actually realized. see, e.g.,EC-COI-84-96.
 Ignorance of the law is no defense to a violation of G.L.
c.268A. In the Matter of C.Joseph Doyle, 1980 SEC 11,13. see also,
Scola v. Scola, 318 Mass. 1, 7(1945)