For Immediate Release - December 16, 2009

Former Gloucester School Committee Member Olimpia Palazzola Fined $2,000 for Violating the Conflict of Interest Law

Intervened in a Personnel Matter Involving Her School Teacher Son

The Ethics Commission approved a Disposition Agreement in which former Gloucester School Committee ("School Committee") member Olimpia Palazzola admitted to violating the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, and agreed to pay a $2,000 civil penalty.

According to the Disposition Agreement, Palazzola was an elected member of the School Committee from January, 2006 to December, 2007. Palazzola's son, Keith, was a special education teacher at Gloucester High School ("high school"). On April 9, 2007, Keith and his supervisor had a verbal confrontation. Keith telephoned Palazzola about the altercation, which he described as harassment, and requested that Palazzola come to the high school. Palazzola went to the high school and asked the supervisor to explain the situation. Palazzola was not satisfied with the explanation. As she left the meeting, Palazzola stated,"the harassment has to stop"

That same morning, the high school principal was scheduled to meet with Keith regarding a pending personnel matter. Palazzola attempted to sit in on the meeting, but was directed to leave by the principal. While waiting outside the meeting room, Palazzola contacted the school superintendent and assistant school superintendent and requested that they attend the meeting, stating that Keith was being harassed by the high school administration. Palazzola was able to speak to the assistant superintendent prior to him going into the meeting, and she explained what she believed to be the history of Keith being harassed. After Keith's meeting, Palazzola met with the superintendent and assistant superintendent for about an hour in the superintendent office, where she spoke about her belief that Keith and other high school teachers were being harassed by the high school administration. Palazzola asked the superintendent to look into the matter because she was worried about Keith's health.

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. Palazzola acted as Keith's agent by appearing at the high school on April 9, 2007, at Keith's request, and confronting his supervisor prior to the high school administration's meeting to discuss Keith's personnel issue; and by meeting with the superintendent and assistant superintendent to discuss Keith's harassment claim against the high school administration. Therefore, Palazzola violated § 17(c).

"Section 17 of the conflict of interest law is intended to prevent municipal employees from becoming involved in situations where the interests of the municipality and a private party are in conflict," said Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "Although this case involves a mother advocating for her son, in this case both the mother and son were employed by the same municipality, the City of Gloucester. By advocating and acting as agent for her son in his dealings with his employer, her loyalty to the municipality is called into question."

Disposition Agreement