Docket No. 623
In the Matter of Mable E. Gaskins
May 22, 2001
The State Ethics Commission and Mable E. Gaskins 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 GL. c. 26813, s.40).
On February 23, 2000, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, s.4(a), the
Commission initiated a preliminary inquiry into possible violations
of the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, by Gaskins. The
Commission has concluded its inquiry and, on April 10, 2001, found
reasonable cause to believe that Gaskins violated G.L. c. 268A,
s.s. 19 and 23.
The Commission and Gaskins now agree to the following findings
of fact and conclusions of law:
1. At all times here relevant, Gaskins was the Lawrence
superintendent of schools, having been appointed by the school
committee to serve from July 1998 until June 2002. Therefore,
Gaskins was a municipal employee as that term is defined in G.L. c.
268A, s. 1, and subject to the provisions of the conflict of
interest law, G.L. c. 268A.
2. Lawrence is one of the poorest school districts in the
state and relies heavily on state funds. Lawrence High School lost
its state accreditation in 1997.
II. Hiring and/or Compensating Sylvia H. Stokes
3. Sylvia H. Stokes is Gaskins' sister and a member of her
immediate family as that term is defined in G.L. c. 268A, s.1.
4. Shortly after becoming superintendent in July 1998, Gaskins
hired Stokes at the rate of $50 per hour to review resumes,
formulate interview questions and evaluate candidates for school
department positions. Stokes worked a total of 19 hours on those
tasks and submitted an invoice for $950.
5. On December 21, 1998, Gaskins sent a letter to the mayor of
Lawrence seeking to have the city expedite the $950 payment to
Stokes. Gaskins also signed a payment slip and an accounting sheet
regarding the $950 on that same date. Thereafter, Stokes received
her $950 payment.
6. In April 1999, Stokes was again hired to work for the
school department at, the rate of $ 5 0 per hour to review resumes
and develop interview questions for two additional school
department positions. Stokes worked a total of 10 hours and
submitted an invoice for $500.
7. Gaskins signed a payment slip for $500 in May 1999. Stokes
received her $500 payment for these tasks thereafter.
8. Except as otherwise permitted, s. 19 of G.L. c. 268A
prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such an
employee in a particular matter in which to his knowledge he or a
member of his immediate family has a financial interest.
9. Gaskins' sister, Stokes, was a member of Gaskins' immediate
family within the meaning of s. 19.
10. The decisions to hire and compensate Stokes
in 1998 and the decision to approve her compensation in 1999 were
particular matters within the meaning of G.L. c. 268A, s. 1. In
addition, Stokes' submission of invoices requesting payment for her
work were particular matters.
11. Stokes had financial interests in those particular matters
because she was to receive $50 per hour as compensation for her
12. As school superintendent, Gaskins participated personally
and substantially in the decisions to hire and compensate
Stokes. In addition, Gaskins participated personally and
substantially as superintendent in reviewing and approving Stokes'
submitted invoices, and in seeking to expedite payment for Stokes
13. When she so participated, Gaskins knew that Stokes had
financial interests in those particular matters.
14. Accordingly, by hiring her sister and approving and
expediting her payments in 199 8, and by approving her payments in
1999, Gaskins officially participated in particular matters in
which to her knowledge a member of her immediate family had
financial interests. By doing so, Gaskins violated G.L. c. 268A,
s.19 on those occasions.
III. Approving Drucille H. Stafford's Payments and Contract
15. Drucille H. Stafford, a doctor of education, was a
professional colleague and personal acquaintance of Gaskins.
Gaskins and Stafford first met in 1992, when Gaskins hired Stafford
to work for an educational consulting firm based in Minneapolis.
Stafford left that firm in 1997 to start her own educational
consulting firm, Stafford & Associates, based in Baltimore,
16. In July 1998, shortly after her own hiring by Lawrence,
Gaskins recommended to the mayor and the school committee that
Stafford be hired to serve as Gaskins' transitional assistant for
one year, from July 1998 until June 1999. Having observed
Stafford's work during the years with EAI, Gaskins believed that
Stafford would be a valuable asset to the Lawrence schools.
17. Based in part on Gaskins' recommendation, the school
committee reviewed and approved Stafford's hiring.
18. Stafford was first hired for a six-day term to set up the
new teacher training program, but her engagement was extended
through June 1999 (FY99), pursuant to an employment contract, to
advise the school system on "a staff development model for student
achievement and teacher accountability." Stafford's FY99 consultant
contract was for 135 days ($725 per day) not to exceed
$97,875. The contract authorized the city to reimburse Stafford for certain
"direct costs" incurred pursuant to work performed under the
contract. but did not specify per them expenses for lodging or
19. Gaskins, as department head, signed Stafford's FY99
contract on behalf of the city. The mayor also signed Stafford's
contract, and the city attorney approved it as to form.
20. Between July 1998 and April 1999, Stafford traveled to
Lawrence each month to consult with Lawrence school officials. Both
Gaskins and Stafford kept their primary residences out-of-state,
and each woman maintained a separate residence in Lawrence.
21. In or about April 1999, Stafford and Gaskins discussed
finding an apartment together. As both women were maintaining
separate residences in other states, it made economic sense to
share rental expenses in an apartment near their workplace. In
April 1999, Gaskins and Stafford jointly signed a lease agreement
to rent a two bedroom apartment at the Museum Square Apartments in
Lawrence. The rent was $1,150, split evenly between the two women.
The apartment was approximately 100 yards from the Lawrence Public
Schools' central office.
22. When Gaskins and Stafford moved in together, Stafford was
still working under her FY99 contract. Neither Stafford's FY99
contract nor the FY99 contracts of the other consultants to the
school district contained a per them lodging or meal allowance.
23. Pursuant to her FY99 contract, Stafford submitted invoices
for her consulting fees through the end of June 1999. As
superintendent, Gaskins reviewed and approved all payments made to
Stafford. These matters were also reviewed and approved by other
city officials, including the mayor, whose review and approval was
required in the ordinary course.
24. In July 1999, Stafford signed a new one-year contract with
the city of Lawrence to assist the high school in achieving
accreditation. Stafford's FY00 contract was capped at $62,250,
which included compensation for consulting services ($725 or $750
per day, depending on the services provided) and reimbursement for
certain expenses based on submitted receipts. Among the allowable
expenses were $3,600 for a "Lodging Allowance" ($50 per day for 6
days per month) and $2,520 for a "Meal Allowance" ($35 per day for
6 days per month). These allowances were also added to the FY00
contracts of the other consultants to the school district.
25. Gaskins, as superintendent, signed Stafford's FY00
contract, and the FY00 contracts of all other consultants to the
school district, on behalf of the city. The mayor also signed the
consultants' contracts, and the city attorney approved them as to form.
26. Stafford was terminated on January 25, 2000. From July
1999 until her termination on January 25, 2000, Stafford submitted
invoices for her consulting fees and receipts for such items as
lodging, groceries, meals, personal items, transportation and
conferences. Stafford's request for a lodging allowance varied each
month depending on how many days she worked in Lawrence, but she
always included a receipt from her landlord to show that she had
paid $575 in rent.
27. As superintendent, Gaskins reviewed and approved all
compensation and expense reimbursements paid to Stafford pursuant
to her FY00 contract. These matters were also reviewed and approved
by other city officials, including the mayor, whose review and
approval was required in the ordinary course.
28. From Stafford's initial hiring in July 1998 until her
termination in January 2000, the city paid Stafford over $150,000
in fees and expenses.
29. Section 23(b)(3) of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a municipal
employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, acting in a manner
which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the
relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly
influence or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his
official duties, or that he is likely to act or fall to act as a
result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party
or person. Section 23(b)(3) further provides that the section is
not violated if an appointed municipal employee discloses in
writing to his appointing authority the facts which would otherwise
lead to such a conclusion.
30. By approving payments to Stafford and signing her FY00
contract while sharing an apartment with Stafford from April 1999
onward, Gaskins knowingly acted in a manner which would cause a
reasonable person, with knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to
conclude that Stafford could unduly enjoy Gaskins' favor in the
performance of her official duties. By so acting, Gaskins violated
G.L. c. 268A, s.23(b)(3) on those occasions.
31. Gaskins did not file any disclosures with the school
committee, her appointing authority, relevant to these matters to
avoid violating s.23(b)(3).
In view of the foregoing violations of G.L. c. 268A by
Gaskins, 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 Gaskins:
(1) that Gaskins pay to the Commission the sum of two thousand
dollars ($2,000) as a civil penalty for violating G.L. c.
268A, s.s. 19 and 23 (b)(3); and
(2) that Gaskins waive all rights to contest the findings of
fact, conclusions of law and terms and conditions contained in
this Agreement in this or any other related administrative or
judicial proceedings to which the Commission is or may be a
 Section 19(b)(1) provides that it shall not be a violation
of this section if the municipal employee first advises the
official responsible for appointment to his position of the nature
and circumstances of the particular matter and makes full
disclosure of such financial interest, and receives in advance a
written determination made by that official that the interest is
not so substantial as to be deemed likely to affect the integrity
of the services which the municipality may expect from the
employee. As an appointed municipal employee, Gaskins could have
sought, but did not, a s. 19(b)(1) exemption; none of the other s.
19 exemptions apply in this case.
 "Particular matter"means any judicial or other proceeding,
application, submission, request for a ruling or other
determination, contract, claim, controversy, charge, accusation,
arrest, decision, determination, finding, but excluding enactment
of general legislation by the general court and petitions of
cities, towns, counties and districts for special laws related to
their governmental organizations, powers, duties, finances and
property. G L. c. 268A, s. 1(k).
 "Financial interest" means any economic interest of a
particular individual that is not shared with a substantial segment
of the population of the municipality. See Graham v. McGrail, 370
Mass. 133 (1976). This definition has embraced private interests,
no matter how small, which are direct, immediate or reasonably
foreseeable. See EC-COI-84-98. The interest can be affected in
either a positive or negative way EC-COI-84-96.
 "Participate" means to participate in agency action or in
a particular matter personally and substantially as a state, county
or municipal employee, through approval, disapproval, decision,
recommendation, the rendering of advice, investigation or
otherwise. G.L. c. 268A, s. 1(j).
 Gaskins notes that, in the first paragraph of a two-page
letter sent to the school committee on April 23, 1999, she included
the statement, "this was moving week for Dru and me. "Dru" referred
to Stafford. In the remaining two pages of the letter, Gaskins
advised the school committee of numerous school department issues.
Section 23(b)(3) provides that it shall be unreasonable to conclude
that a public employee has created an appearance of impropriety if
the employee has "disclosed in writing to his appointing authority
or, if no appointing authority exists, discloses in a manner which
is public in nature, the facts which would otherwise lead to such
a conclusion." Other than this reference to "moving week for Dru
and me," Gaskins provided no written statement to the school
committee regarding her sharing an apartment with Stafford.
Moreover, even if the letter had been made public -- which is not
clear from the facts -- that statement alone does not reflect that
Gaskins and Stafford were moving in together as roommates. Thus,
Gaskins' April 23, 1999 letter did not suffice as a s.23(b)(3)