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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

No excuse

Bob Coughlin and the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council know they have a problem on their hands. Why else do you call in Ray Howell?

But the Patrick administration showed they have learned a lesson that Coughlin obviously did not -- full disclosure and openness cures a lot of ills.

The former economic undersecretary is probably going down for the third time with the release and publication of e-mails that show he was wearing two hats during June meetings with biotech council members -- state official and job seeker.

All of this could have been avoided if Coughlin -- who served in the Legislature prior to joining the administration -- remembered one simple rule of the road: when it doubt, disclose.

The state Ethics Commission has always been there for advisory opinions. In one of my past lives, I used it for just such a situation -- whether I should tell Employer A that I was in discussions with Employer B, which was dependent on Employer A for its budget.

It certainly wasn't pleasant to tell my boss I was looking for another job (even though in the end he was very helpful in me getting that job -- after the potential conflict had turned into ancient history).

But by doing that (a voluntary move at the time) I avoided what Coughlin has stepped into: a gigantic appearance of a conflict of interest.

About the only slack I am willing to grant Coughlin is that right now this looks like an appearance of a conflict rather than a full-fledged one. Not that the ethics law distinguish between the two.

If there's a good story here, it's that the new Patrick team has learned something from the hard lessons of last winter's bad start. Not only did they respond quickly to the Globe's Freedom of Information Act request -- they sent the e-mails and correspondence to the Ethics Commission too.

And this line stands out in the story -- where Coughlin gave a biotech executive Red Sox tickets and then asked him for a reference.
Because the ethics rules are unclear, the governor has instructed the executive agencies to develop a policy over the use of tickets and submit them to him for approval.
Sorry MBC, but it's time to look for yet another executive director. This time, if you're looking for a legislator, find someone who doesn't like to dance close to or over the line.

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