- David A. Wilson, Executive Director
Media Contact for State Ethics Commission Finds Norwood Selectman Helen Donohue Violated Conflict of Interest Law
Gerry Tuoti, Public Information Officer
Boston, MA — The State Ethics Commission has issued a Decision and Order finding that Norwood Selectman Helen Donohue violated the conflict of interest law by participating as a selectman in matters related to Eysie Plaza, a strip mall in Norwood, without first disclosing her contentious personal history with the plaza’s owner, Paul Eysie.
Donohue and Eysie have known each other for decades. Their once amicable relationship became contentious when Eysie bought a dilapidated building across the street from Donohue’s home in 2006 and redeveloped it as affordable apartments. Donohue was not happy with the affordable housing project and had vehement arguments with Eysie concerning the height and size of the building, parking, trash removal, and the number of tenants in the apartments. The disputes concerning trash and the number of tenants continued after the completion the apartment building, which Eysie continued to own.
In September 2016, Eysie appeared before the Board of Selectmen to request that a warrant be placed before the Special Town Meeting to re-zone Eysie Plaza, which was zoned partially commercial and partially residential, to entirely commercial. Donohue cast the sole vote against Eysie’s request.
The conflict of interest law requires that when there are circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to conclude that a public employee may be biased or subject to undue influence while performing official actions, the public employee may not perform those actions without first making a written public disclosure of the facts causing the appearance of bias or undue influence. The Commission found that a reasonable person knowing the history of significant personal conflict between Donohue and Eysie would conclude that their contentious relationship could improperly influence Donohue in her performance of her official duties. The Commission concluded that Donohue, who did not file a disclosure regarding her contentious relationship with Eysie, violated the conflict of interest law when she participated as a selectman in the discussion and vote on Eysie’s warrant request.
Donohue also participated as a selectman in matters concerning a restaurant located at Eysie Plaza but not owned by Eysie. In June 2016, Donohue cast the lone vote against the restaurant’s application for an alcoholic beverages license. In February 2017, she voted in favor of holding a public hearing on the restaurant’s request for an entertainment license. The Commission found that, although it was a close question, Donohue’s daughters’ financial interest through a real estate trust in a nearby vacant lot did not create an appearance of a conflict of interest for her when she participated in matters regarding Eysie Plaza and the restaurant without disclosing her daughters’ interest.
The Decision and Order notes that Donohue could have participated in the vote and discussion on Eysie’s zoning warrant request if she had first filed a written disclosure regarding her personal history with Eysie. It also states that there is no evidence that Donohue intentionally tried to conceal her history of personal conflicts with Eysie, which was well known among Norwood residents, but notes the important purposes served by the advance written disclosure requirement and that Donohue, a longtime selectman and attorney, should have understood her obligation to file a disclosure before participating as a selectman in matters involving Eysie Plaza. In consideration of the totality of the circumstances, including Donohue’s personal situation at and around the time of the violation, the Commission orders Donohue to pay a $50 civil penalty. The Decision and Order also cautions Donohue to comply with the conflict of interest law in her future actions as a selectman by either making the required advance written disclosure or abstaining from participating in matters raising an appearance of conflict.
The issuance of the Decision and Order concludes the Commission’s adjudicatory proceeding against Donohue, which was initiated when the Commission’s Enforcement Division filed an Order to Show Cause against her on June 17, 2019. Donohue has 30 days within which to pay the civil penalty or file an appeal in the Superior Court.
The Commission encourages public employees to contact the Commission’s Legal Division at 617-371-9500 for free advice if they have any questions regarding how the conflict of interest law may apply to them.