Former Essex Tech Superintendent-Director Daniel O’Connell Fined $23K  for Violating Conflict of Interest Law

O’Connell repeatedly used his public position to benefit himself and his son

Daniel O’Connell, the former Superintendent-Director of the North Shore Technical High School and Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School districts, has admitted that he violated the conflict of interest law on multiple occasions by using his official position and public resources to benefit himself and his son, a North Shore and Essex Tech maintenance worker. O’Connell paid a $23,000 civil penalty in a disposition agreement approved by the State Ethics Commission on May 16 and waived his right to contest the Commission’s findings.

In the agreement, O’Connell admitted to violating the conflict of interest law by directing an Essex Tech subordinate to reinstate his expired $20,000 stipend; by giving his son pay raises and increased opportunities to work overtime; by allowing his son to use an Essex Tech truck for his private business; by using his position as Superintendent-Director to pressure a plumbing supply company in a personal dispute; and by ordering school employees to use public worktime and an Essex Tech vehicle to deliver surplus bricks to his home.

O’Connell was Superintendent-Director of North Shore from 2010 until June 2014, when it merged with two other schools to form Essex Tech. During the merger O’Connell served as Superintendent-Director of both North Shore and Essex Tech, then he continued as Essex Tech Superintendent-Director until 2015. The Essex Tech School Committee authorized O’Connell to receive a $20,000 stipend until June 2014 for serving as Superintendent-Director of both schools. In October 2014, O’Connell directed the Essex Tech business manager to reinstate his stipend, retroactive to July 2014. By doing so, O’Connell used his public position for personal gain and violated the conflict of interest law.

O’Connell also unlawfully used his Superintendent-Director position in his private dispute with Salem Plumbing over more than $1,200 worth of bathroom fixtures he had purchased for his home. Dissatisfied with the fixtures, O’Connell used his school email account to contact the company, which did business with Essex Tech, and requested free replacement fixtures in exchange for “continu[ing] our business partnership.” Days later, when the company submitted a bid for an Essex Tech purchase, O’Connell, as Superintendent-Director, replied that he would not accept any of the company’s bids until the private dispute was resolved. The company then replaced the fixtures free of charge.

In addition, because O’Connell did not first disclose his personal dispute with Salem Plumbing to the Essex Tech School Committee, he violated the conflict of interest law when he acted as Superintendent-Director on the company’s bid for Essex Tech work, as his actions created the appearance that he would be unduly influenced by that dispute and act with bias in his actions as Superintendent-Director regarding the company’s business with Essex Tech.

O’Connell also violated the conflict of interest law when he used his Superintendent-Director position to benefit his son by twice raising his salary, letting him use an Essex Tech truck for his private business, and placing him in charge of snow removal at Essex Tech.

In addition, O’Connell unlawfully used public resources for his own benefit when he ordered Essex Tech employees to do private work for him. After a developer gave O’Connell surplus bricks at the former North Shore campus, O’Connell ordered Essex Tech workers to use a school-owned truck and public worktime to pick up the bricks and deliver them to his home.

The State Ethics Commission is charged with civilly enforcing the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A.  When at least three of the Commission’s five members vote to find reasonable cause to believe a public employee has violated the law, they can also authorize adjudicatory proceedings to determine whether the violation occurred.  The public employee then has the opportunity to enter into a public disposition agreement rather than exercising his or her right to a hearing.

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.