For Immediate Release - August 18, 2008

Boston City Council Assistant Research Director Lincoln Smith Fined $1,000 for Violating the Conflict of Interest Law

Invoked his City Council Position in an Effort to Pressure a Valet Parking Service to Accept Liability for Damage to his Personal Vehicle

The Ethics Commission issued a Decision and Order finding that Boston City Council Assistant Research Director Lincoln Smith violated G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by invoking his City Council position and the powers associated with the Boston City Council in connection with a claim against a parking service company for damage to his personal vehicle. Smith was fined $1,000 for the violation.

According to the Decision and Order, on November 17, 2005, Smith used a parking valet service operated by VPNE Parking Solutions, (VPNE) to park his vehicle at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. When a VPNE employee returned the vehicle, Smith pointed out a long scratch beginning at the front door and extending to the rear door. The VPNE employee denied that the damage occurred at their facility, and Smith then asked to speak to a supervisor. Two VPNE managers met with Smith, told him they would not make a decision at that time regarding liability for the damage, and advised him to pursue a damage claim through his insurance company.

The Decision and Order determined that testimony taken during the adjudicatory hearing "makes clear that Smith invoked his employment relationship with the City Council." When the VPNE managers would not make a decision regarding liability, Smith became agitated and told the managers that he was "on the Boston City Council", and that he was "cognizant" of the parking issues in the hospital area. He also told them that the hospital would need a lot of permits, and that "permits have to come through my desk in my office." Based on Smith's statements, the managers believed that Smith was a City Councilor and that he could take actions that could negatively affect VPNE's contract with Brigham and Women's Hospital, and/or Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Section 23(b)(2) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a public employee from using or attempting to use his position to secure for himself or others an unwarranted privilege of substantial value not properly available to similarly situated individuals. Although Smith was not in fact a City Councilor, his invocation of his employment relationship with the Boston City Council by virtue of his position as Assistant Research Director, was a use of his official position. Accordingly, by invoking his City Council position and the powers associated with the Boston City Council during the negotiations concerning a damage claim involving his car, Smith violated this section of the law.

The Decision and Order concludes the adjudicatory process, which was initiated on May 23, 2007, when the Commission's Enforcement Division filed an Order to Show Cause. Adjudicatory hearings were held at the Commission's offices on November 7 and 20, 2007, and closing arguments were presented before the Commission on February 13, 2008. Smith has 30 days to appeal the Commission's decision to Superior Court.

"Using one's official position to influence the resolution of a private dispute can only undermine confidence in government," said Commission Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "The conflict of interest law protects the public's right to fair treatment from government, and prohibits public employees from exploiting their official positions for personal gain."