For Immediate Release - December 18, 2006

Lynn Fire Chief Edward Higgins, Jr. Fined $3,000

For Promoting, Supervising and Approving Overtime for Girlfriend/Spouse Deborah Darsney

The Massachusetts State Ethics Commission fined Lynn Fire Chief Edward Higgins, Jr. $3,000 for violating the state's conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, by promoting, supervising and approving overtime for Deborah Darsney. Higgins and Darsney lived together as boyfriend and girlfriend beginning prior to Higgins' appointment to chief in 2003. They married in November 2005.

According to the Disposition Agreement in 2003 and in response to budget cuts, Higgins made a number of personnel changes including laying off firefighters, 911 intake workers and a clerk. He also reorganized the administrative office, assigning Darsney, who was then system accountant, additional duties and responsibilities. Darsney reported to Higgins on some matters and Higgins at times assigned and approved Darsney's overtime. In June 2005, Higgins promoted Darsney to Network Systems Assistant Coordinator, raising her salary from $677 per week to $832 per week.

Section 23(b)(3) of the conflict law prohibits a public official 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 anyone can improperly influence or unduly enjoy the public employee's favor in the performance of his official duties. By promoting, supervising and approving overtime for Darsney, a person with whom he was living, Higgins violated§ 23(b)(3). Higgins could have avoided violating §23(b)(3) by disclosing in writing to the Mayor, his appointing authority, of his relationship with Darsney and the actions he was taking. He did not make such disclosures.

Shortly after Higgins and Darsney married, Higgins disclosed the marriage to the personnel director and informed the director that he assigned all personnel matters and supervision of Darsney to the deputy chief. The deputy chief approved Darsney's requests for time off; Higgins continued to daily supervise Darsney. On five occasions between December 2005 and March 2006, Higgins approved overtime for Darsney. The overtime totaled $2,600.

Section 19 prohibits a municipal employee from officially participating in matters in which to his knowledge he, his immediate family or a business in which he is serving as a director has a financial interest. By supervising and approving overtime for his spouse, Higgins violated § 19.

When Higgins learned in March 2006 that his disclosure to the personnel director did not satisfy the conflict of interest law, he sought assistance from the city solicitor, then sent a letter to the Mayor, his appointing authority, who approved an exemption to § 19 that allowed Higgins to participate in matters affecting Darsney's financial interests.

"Although a public official may try to comply with the conflict of interest law by delegating tasks to a subordinate, acts of delegation are themselves violations of the conflict of interest law," said Executive Director Peter Sturges. "A public official who cannot participate in a matter should disclose the matter up the chain of command to his or her appointing authority who can then determine who should participate."