Former East Bridgewater Police Chief John L. Silva, Jr. Fined for Violating the Conflict of Interest Law
Participated in Matters Affecting His Police Officer Son
According to the Disposition Agreement, in August 2003, Silva's police officer son was placed in protective custody for an alcohol-related incident. Silva issued a written directive to his son that he take a breathalyzer test at the beginning of each duty shift; secure his service weapon at the police station at the end of every shift; and attend counseling and alcohol programs. On November 19, 2003, Silva's son was arrested for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of an accident. As a result, the East Bridgewater Board of Selectmen charged Silva's son with violating the Police Department's rules and regulations.
In connection with his son's arrest, Silva sought and received in November 2003 an opinion from the State Ethics Commission's Legal Division that Silva could not participate in disciplinary matters involving his son because of his son's financial interest in the matter, unless he first received written permission from his appointing authority, the Board of Selectmen. Silva did not receive such written permission from the Board of Selectmen.
A Settlement Agreement ("Settlement Agreement") was reached with the Board of Selectmen in January 2004, which called for a 120-day suspension without pay to coincide with the son's driver's license suspension, and upon his return to work, for Silva's son to take a breathalyzer test at the beginning of each shift and submit the results to Sergeant John Cowan or the designated liaison between the Police Department and the Board of Selectmen. Silva appointed himself the designated liaison and collected his son's breathalyzer tests. Silva also authorized his son to return to work prior to the expiration of the 120-day suspension and/or reinstatement of his driver's license, and placed him on restricted desk duty. On three occasions between January 2004 and December 2004, Silva's son failed to take the breathalyzer tests as required under the Settlement Agreement. Silva allowed his son to work his police shifts despite his failure to take the breathalyzer tests on these three occasions. Silva did not report the missed breathalyzer tests to the Board of Selectmen.
Section 19 of G. L. c. 268A prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such in a particular matter in which to his knowledge, he or an immediate family member has a financial interest. According to the Disposition Agreement, Silva violated § 19 by:
- deciding to issue the written directive to his son;
- assigning his son to restricted desk duty prior to the expiration of the 120-day suspension and/or the reinstatement of his license;
- appointing himself the designated liaison and collecting his son's required breathalyzer tests;
- allowing his son to work his police shifts despite his failure to take the breathalyzer tests on three occasions; and
- not reporting the missed breathalyzer tests to the Board of Selectmen.
Section 23(b)(2) prohibits a public employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, using his official position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges or exemptions of substantial value which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals. By failing to report his son's missed breathalyzer tests to the Board of Selectmen and allowing him to work his police shifts, Silva used his official position as police chief to obtain for his son an unwarranted privilege or exemption of substantial value because, under the Settlement Agreement, Silva's son was required to take a breathalyzer test at the beginning of each shift. This unwarranted privilege was not available to similarly situated individuals. Therefore, Silva violated § 23(b)(2).
"Public employees may not participate in personnel or disciplinary matters which affect the financial interests of immediate family members, unless they have filed the required disclosure and received prior written authorization from their appointing authority to do so," said Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "As is evident in this case, a public employee's participation in such matters raises obvious conflicts of interest between their private interests and their public responsibilities."Disposition Agreement