July 24, 2017 State Ethics Commission Meeting Minutes- Public Session
Contact for July 24, 2017 State Ethics Commission Meeting Minutes- Public Session
State Ethics Commission
Overview of July 24, 2017 State Ethics Commission Meeting Minutes- Public Session
Chairman Barbara A. Dortch-Okara called the meeting to order at 10:06 a.m. Also in attendance were Vice-Chairman Regina L. Quinlan, Commissioner David A. Mills, Commissioner Thomas J. Sartory, and Commissioner Maria J. Krokidas.
APPROVAL OF MEETING MINUTES
On the motion of Vice-Chairman Quinlan, seconded by Commissioner Sartory, the Commission voted 5-0 to waive the reading and approve the minutes of the June 15, 2017 public and executive sessions.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S REPORT
Executive Director David A. Wilson welcomed new Assistant General Counsel Kevin Larivee who started on June 26, 2017.
Mr. Wilson reported that interviews for the Public Information Officer position will be scheduled in the near future.
Mr. Wilson reported that the Commission’s FY 2018 budget will be the same as the FY 2017 budget: $2,093,969.
Mr. Wilson noted that although he had anticipated that the Commission would receive a 1% budget increase in FY 2018, the Commission’s budget was reduced to the FY 2017 level by the conference committee, resulting in a loss of a nearly $21,000. Mr. Wilson stated that although this result was disappointing, and will create hardship, it will be possible to manage with the decreased budget.
Chairman Dortch-Okara asked how the lower level of funding will impact the Commission. Mr. Wilson reported that he will save money wherever it is possible to do so. He would like to be able to increase the staff, and in particular to hire an additional attorney for the Enforcement Division. The lower funding level will also potentially impact the Commission’s ability to provide pay raises to management positions, and there will be fewer funds available for staff to attend trainings and the COGEL conference. Mr. Wilson also noted that despite the budget decrease, he still intends to proceed with hiring the Public Information Officer position.
Mr. Wilson reported that he will now begin working on a proposed FY 19 maintenance budget, which is due in October, and a mid-year spending plan, which is due in December.
Ethics Task Force
Mr. Wilson reported he sent letters to members of the Task Force on Integrity in State and Local Government, thanking them for the opportunity to participate in the work of the Task Force and for the Task Force’s recommendation of full regulatory authority for the Commission. Letters offering assistance and advocating for full regulatory authority have also been sent to members of the House, Senate and joint committees to whom the Task Force report was sent. Mr. Wilson noted that he hopes to meet with members of the committee in coming months.
Mr. Wilson reported that the entire staff recently participated in trainings in diversity, sexual harassment prevention, workplace violence prevention and domestic violence in the workplace prevention provided by the Human Resources Division. Additional training may be scheduled for managers in the future.
Mr. Wilson reported that the staff re-elected Candies Pruitt-Doncaster as the Commission Ombudsman.
Mr. Wilson reported that the office renovation work has been completed, with the exception of the installation of new light fixtures. The light fixtures will be installed during the next several weeks. Mr. Wilson thanked Chief Financial Officer Alice Wu for her work on the office renovations, including coming into the office over a weekend while the floors were cleaned.
The Commission now has a new small conference room, a kitchenette, new HVAC diffusers and returns, clean floors, freshly painted walls, functioning blinds, improved electrical data/telephone outlets, and new reflective film on windows. New conference room tables, a lectern, and A/V equipment for training and video conferencing were also purchased.
Mr. Wilson reported that there are three major projects that were recently completed, or are nearly complete: (1) SFI system; (2) Ethos Replacement Planning; and (3) Online Training Accessibility.
Next Commission Meeting
After discussion, the Commission scheduled its next Commission meeting for September 21, 2017 at 9:00 a.m.
ETHOS REPLACEMENT PLANNING PROJECT
Robert Milt, Financial Disclosure Administrator and Analyst/SFI reported that the Commission is planning for the replacement of Ethos. Ethos is the Commission’s eleven year-old case management system.
Mr. Milt reported that the Commission retained consultant BerryDunn to provide a set of recommendations regarding a new case management system and a list of deficiencies in our current system. BerryDunn reported that the Commission is heavily reliant on paper, our data reporting capabilities are very limited, and we do not have the ability to mine our data and analyze relationships among employees and/or towns. Most modern case management systems have these tools.
Mr. Milt noted that next he will contact prospective vendors to learn more about what types of case management systems are available, and after that he will begin the application process for capital bond funding from MassIT.
PUBLIC EDUCATION DIVISION REPORT
Public Education and Communications Division Chief David Giannotti presented his Division Report for activities in the Public Education Division for the month of June.
Mr. Giannotti presented the Public Education/Communications Division and Information Technology FY 2017 Report. Mr. Giannotti reported that he completed 72 seminars in FY 2017, more than in prior years. The Public Education Division received an increase in the number of calls from the public and the media regarding the conflict of interest law and online training requirements.
Commissioner Krokidas asked Mr. Giannotti whether there is a way to track the cities, towns and agencies where we see the most violations of the conflict and financial disclosure laws.
Enforcement Division Chief, Monica Brookman, responded that we currently do this manually, but we anticipate that a new case management system would make this type of tracking easier.
Mr. Giannotti stated that when the Commission receives an increase in the number of complaints from a particular municipality he sends the municipality an email offering to provide them with training.
Online Training Program Accessibility Remediation Project
Mr. Giannotti reported that when the Ethics Reform bill was passed in 2009, the Commission was required to create online conflict of interest law training programs. The trainings were not fully accessible initially and we created work arounds for employees who had issues completing the programs. During FY 2017, the Commission retained a vendor, SSB Bart, to make the online training programs fully accessible.
Mr. Giannotti thanked the Commission for the Blind and the Office of Disability for providing staff to test the online training programs using JAWS, a software program that is used to assist visually impaired individuals with navigating websites.
Commissioner Sartory inquired whether it would be possible to obtain foundational funding to pay for additional improvements to the online training programs.
General Counsel, Deirdre Roney, noted that the Commission does not have the statutory authority to receive funding from private entities. Ms. Roney stated the Commission has requested this authority in the past unsuccessfully and it may make sense to request it again.
LEGAL DIVISION MATTERS
Legal Division Annual Report for FY 2017
General Counsel Deirdre Roney presented the Legal Division Annual Report for FY 2017. Ms. Roney reported that the Legal Division has completed several major projects during the last fiscal year, including revising the personnel manual, working with the Task Force, and completing the SFI project. Ms. Roney stated that in addition to completing these significant projects, the Legal Division continued to respond to requests for advice in a timely manner. Ms. Roney also noted that now that the Legal Division is fully staffed and as other major projects end, the Legal Division will turn back to drafting additional educational information. Ms. Roney thanked the Legal Division staff for their work in keeping up with the volume of requests for advice.
Ms. Roney advised the Commissioners that the Legal Division is in the process of providing conflict of interest law trainings for new staff. Ms. Roney offered to provide the trainings and/or training materials to the Commissioners upon their request.
Chairman Dortch-Okara requested that going forward, Ms. Roney advise the Commissioners of when the trainings for new staff will take place and then Commissioners may decide whether they are available to attend.
McGovern v. State Ethics Commission, Hampden Superior Court, Civil Action No. 1679CV00082: Ms. Roney reported that Edward McGovern seeks judicial review pursuant to G.L. c. 30A of the Commission’s finding of a violation against him. McGovern served a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on May 30, 2017; we will serve our opposition and cross motion on or before August 1, 2017.
Chairman Dortch-Okara asked about the status of McGovern’s previously served Motion to Extend the Record. Legal Division Staff Attorney, Norah Mallam, responded that McGovern withdrew the Motion to Extend the Record.
SFI Status Report
Legal Division Deputy Chief/SFI Lauren Duca reported that in CY 16, 91% of Filers timely filed SFIs. She noted that the compliance rate was higher this year. For CY 16, 300 formal Notices of Lateness were sent to Filers. Many Filers complied after receiving this Notice. Ms. Duca reported that 22 late Filers will be referred to the Enforcement Division.
Ms. Duca reported that the Public Inspection Module of the new SFI system opened on June 22, 2017. Ms. Duca noted that more Statements of Financial Interests (SFIs) were viewed in one day than have been viewed in the last three years. As a result the SFI Division received many calls from Filers asking why their SFIs were viewed. Ms. Duca reported that there are currently two individuals who have registered with the system to view SFIs online.
Ms. Duca reported that there is one part of the new SFI system that is currently not functioning properly and she is working to resolve this issue.
Ms. Duca reported that the new SFI online system has automated many functions that were previously performed manually, including search functions, and running reports and statistics. The new system also allows agency Liaisons to do many functions on their own that they were not previously able to do.
Chairman Dortch-Okara asked whether Filers have provided any input regarding their experience using the new system.
Ms. Duca responded that she received many positive comments from users regarding the new system.
Ms. Roney thanked Ms. Duca, Mr. Milt, Senior Assistant General Counsel Pauline Nguyen, and Information Technology Specialist Tony Webb for their excellent work on the SFI project, which required an immense amount of work.
Mr. Wilson echoed Ms. Roney’s praise of the SFI team’s efforts and stated that he has been amazed by the terrific work the team has accomplished.
Legal Division Metrics for June 2017
Ms. Roney presented the following Legal Division metrics for June 2017.
- Written advice. The Legal Division answered by letter or email 56 written requests for advisory opinions under G.L. c. 268A and c. 268B.
For comparison: June 2016 (same month last year): 64
May 2017 (previous month): 75
- Oral advice. The Legal Division attorneys provided advice by telephone or on a walk-in basis in response to 403 requests for advice from state, county and municipal officials.
For comparison: June 2016 (same month last year): 660
May 2017 (previous month): 684
- Review of municipal letters. Division staff reviewed 5 letters issued by city solicitors/town counsel pursuant to G.L. c. 268A, § 22 and 930 CMR 1.03.
For comparison: June 2016 (same month last year): 8
April 2017 (previous month): 4
- Backlog. As of today, the Division has 5 pending requests for written advice that are more than 30 days old. There are a total of 13 pending requests for written advice.
ENFORCEMENT DIVISION MATTERS
Investigations Unit Metrics Report
Investigations Director Paul Murray presented the monthly report of Investigations for Unit activities for June 2017.
Enforcement Division Report for Fiscal Year 2017
Enforcement Division Chief Monica Brookman presented the Enforcement Division Report for FY 2017. Ms. Brookman noted that in FY 2017, the Enforcement Division’s top priority was to hire and fully train new staff, and to reduce the backlog of complaints and casework.
Ms. Brookman thanked Enforcement Division Staff Attorney Candies Pruitt-Doncaster for her service as Acting Enforcement Division Chief, and noted that Ms. Pruitt-Doncaster served as the only attorney in the Enforcement Division for part of the fiscal year. Ms. Brookman also thanked Ms. Nguyen for her work in the Enforcement Division during FY 2017.
Ms. Brookman reported that during FY 2017, the Enforcement Division issued 21 Preliminary Inquiries and issued 92 Educational Letters.
[At 11:30 a.m. the Commission took a brief break. At 11:38 a.m. the Commission reconvened.]
At 11:38 a.m., on the motion of Chairman Dortch-Okara, seconded by Vice-Chairman Quinlan, the Commission voted 5-0 to enter into executive session to discuss matters subject to the G.L. c. 30A, § 21, subparagraph (a)(7) and § 18, and G.L. c. 268B, §§ 3 and 4. These matters included investigatory matters, cases deferred, a summons authorization request, an education letter, a preliminary inquiry report, advisory opinions and deliberations. Chairman Dortch-Okara stated that the Commission would not reconvene in public session following the executive session.
VOTE: Chairman Dortch-Okara yes
Vice-Chairman Quinlan yes
Commissioner Mills yes
Commissioner Sartory yes
Commissioner Krokidas yes
LIST OF DOCUMENTS USED AT THIS MEETING
1. Agenda for the Commission Meeting of July 24, 2017.
2. Minutes of the State Ethics Commission Meeting for the June 15, 2017 Public and Executive Sessions.
3. Memorandum dated July 14, 2017 from Public Education and Communications Division Chief David Giannotti to the Commission concerning Public Education and Communications Division report for the meeting.
4. Memorandum dated July 14, 2017 from Public Education and Communications Division Chief David Giannotti to the Commission concerning FY 2017 Public Education/Communications Division and Information Technology Accomplishments.
5. Memorandum dated July 14, 2017 from Public Education and Communications Division Chief David Giannotti to the Commission concerning Online Training Program Accessibility Remediation Project.
6. Memorandum dated July 13, 2017 from General Counsel Deirdre Roney to the Commission setting forth Legal Division matters for the July 24, 2017 meeting.
7. Memorandum dated July 13, 2017 from General Counsel Deirdre Roney to the Commission concerning Legal Division Report for FY 2017.
8. Memorandum dated July 13, 2017 from Legal Division Deputy Chief/SFI to the Commission concerning the CY 2016 SFI filing season and the new SFI filing and management application.
9. Calendar of Hearing Dates in pending Commission Adjudicatory Proceedings.
10. Memorandum dated July 10, 2017 from Enforcement Division Chief Monica Brookman concerning Enforcement Division Report for FY 2017.
11. Report of Enforcement Division Investigations Unit metrics.
Norah K. Mallam