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City employees undergo ethics refresher course

The ethics training session came after the indictment of two top City Hall operatives.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File/Boston Globe

City administrators were warned about the appearances of conflict, cautioned against the lure of abusing their positions, and urged not to disclose confidential information.

The two-hour seminar, held quietly last month, was intended to serve as a refresher in ethical behavior for city employees, and it comes in response to a federal probe into City Hall.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh had promised a top-down ethics review after the first of two high-ranking City Hall employees was arrested earlier this year and accused of forcing a popular music festival to hire unneeded union stagehands to work on a concert on City Hall Plaza.


At the seminar, city employees heard directly from state ethics and public records specialists, state and city officials said. And Cabinet chiefs and department heads were able to ask about certain ethics scenarios and learn about recent updates to the law, Laura Oggeri, the mayor’s press secretary, said.

Oggeri said the seminar went much further than standard ethics training. Currently, city employees must complete online training on the conflict of interest laws within the first 30 days of their employment and do a similar refresher yearly as required by the state, she said.

“This training was a broader session on the state ethics and public records laws and the resulting requirements for city employees,’’ she said in an e-mail response.

David Giannotti, public education chief for the State Ethics Commission, said he was asked by a member of the city’s law department to conduct the overview. He spent an hour discussing ethics laws with city administrators July 11 at Suffolk University Law School.

“We don’t talk about actual situations,’’ Giannotti said. “I laid down the ground rules at the beginning of the presentation.”

It was a typical session, Giannotti said. Using PowerPoint, he said, he told workers to properly disclose information that could lead to an appearance of conflict. He highlighted rules that prevent public employees from using their positions to benefit themselves and their families. And he pointed out the importance of not disclosing confidential information about other people. He also discussed rules on gifts, nepotism, and the standards of conduct.


“I thought they were very attentive and engaged,’’ he said of the city employees.

An official from the state’s public records division also addressed the group in a separate session, said Brian McNiff, spokesman for Secretary of State William F. Galvin.

McNiff described the seminar as educational. “It was just the basics,’’ McNiff said. “It was the rundown of what the law is and they answered questions.”

But the mayor’s promise for top-down ethics review puts him in a tricky situation, in light of the federal probe, said Peter N. Ubertaccio, an associate professor of political science at Stonehill College who closely follows Boston politics.

“There’s the legal issue and there is political issue,’’ he said. “If a mayor and his team decide that we really need to clamp down and ratchet up the training and ratchet up the oversight, it may be a tacit admission that [they] weren’t doing enough to begin with.”

On the other hand, Ubertaccio added, it’s been a long time since there has been a federal investigation into City Hall. And since the two indicted employees are claiming innocence, the mayor is wise to show that he is taking the matter seriously, Ubertaccio said.


Walsh promised an ethics review after Kenneth Brissette, the city’s tourism director, was arrested in May on federal extortion charges. Timothy Sullivan, the city’s acting director of intergovernmental affairs, was indicted a month later. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The indictments brought unwanted scrutiny upon City Hall and a mayor who has been a champion of the labor movement.

Walsh had called the indictments “deeply concerning’’ and said City Hall is cooperating with the US attorney’s office.

“We want to get to the bottom of it,” Walsh told the Globe earlier this year. “I don’t like this cloud hanging over my administration.”

He invited the Ethics Commission and the state’s supervisor of public records to conduct the seminar, which the mayor and 55 Cabinet members and department heads attended, Oggeri said.

A second training is set for next month for those who could not make the first one, and the city’s law department will be scheduling additional sessions for other City Hall staffers, she added.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.