LOWELL -- City Councilor John Leahy on Monday released a communication from a state Ethics Commission attorney advising him that he could participate in the council's process to select a new city manager if he felt he could be objective.
Leahy had asked the commission whether he could vote on the application of his brother-in-law George Ramirez, who was one of 29 applicants for the post and is now one of six finalists.
The Sun had previously reported Leahy was given the go-ahead to participate in the selection process by the state, but Leahy had not provided the communication from the Ethics Commission about the issue.
The email communication Leahy received was from Deirdre Roney, general counsel of the State Ethics Commission, and was dated Feb. 24.
Roney wrote that Section 19 of the conflict-of-interest law (M.G.L. 268A) prohibits municipal employees from participating in matters in which "immediate family" have a financial interest.
But the definition of immediate family "does not apply to a brother in law who is married to your sister," Roney wrote, so she said Section 19 is inapplicable.
Roney also pointed to Section 23(b)(2), which she said requires public officials to apply "objective standards" in all their official actions.
"You should not participate in decisions involving your brother-in-law unless you believe that you can be objective," Roney wrote.
If Leahy believed he could be objective, he was encouraged to make a public, written disclosure of the fact that Ramirez was applying for city manager and that Leahy would be called on to decide whether to appoint him.
"Making the disclosure will eliminate any appearance that might otherwise exist that you would tend to favor him because he is your brother in law," Roney wrote.
David Giannotti, a spokesman for the Ethics Commission, said he cannot confirm or deny whether anyone has sought or received advice from the commission.
Leahy filed a disclosure under section 23(b)(3) of the conflict law highlighting his ties to Ramirez and his belief he could be objective on Monday, March 10.
Such disclosures must be made prior to any official participation or action in a matter, though Leahy's was filed after he already submitted his list of the five candidates, including Ramirez, he wanted to secure interviews.
Leahy has defended the timing of his disclosure filing, saying it was already publicly reported in the media that Ramirez was his brother-in-law.
The council has scheduled three nights of city manager candidate interviews from March 25-27.
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Feb. 24 email from Ethics Commission Attorney to City Councilor John Leahy:
Dear Mr. Leahy,
This is to summarize the advice I just gave you under the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A. You are a Lowell city councilor, and, as such, a municipal employee for purposes of that law. Your brother in law, who is married to your sister, is a candidate for the position of Lowell city manager. The city council appoints the city manager, votes on the manager's contract, and oversees the position. You asked whether you are permitted to vote on your brother in law's application.
Section 19 of the conflict of interest law prohibits municipal employees from participating in particular matters in which members of their "immediate family" have a financial interest. "Immediate family" has a definition in the statute, G.L. c. 268A, section 1(e), that does not include a brother in law who is married to your sister. Therefore, Section 19 is inapplicable here.
Section 23(b)(2) of the conflict of interest law requires public officials to apply objective standards in all their official actions. You should not participate in decisions involving your brother in law unless you believe that you can be objective.
Assuming that you can be objective, then you should use the attached form to make a public, written disclosure of the fact that your brother in law is applying for the position of city manager, and you will be called on as a city councilor to decide whether to appoint him. Making the disclosure will eliminate any appearance that might otherwise exist that you would tend to favor him because he is your brother in law.
Let me know if you have any questions.
State Ethics Commission