O’Connor’s Admissions Prove Clear Violation of Conflict of Interest Laws
(Editor’s Note: This article was published in the May 12, 2023 edition of the Everett Advocate)
It’s only a conflict if you get caught
Longtime Everett Public Schools Communications Coordinator David O’Connor admitted this in his deposition to the mayor’s attorney in the defamation lawsuit that he worked for two years as an employee for the Everett Leader Herald newspaper and the School Department under former Supt. Frederick Foresteire and admitted to his former employment to current Supt. of Schools Priya Tahiliani, in clear violation of conflict of interest laws.
O’Connor, who began his career on the city payroll as a clerk typist under Forestiere in 2012, clearly violated Mass. Conflict of Interest Laws, including Chapter 268A, Chapter 17, Conduct of Public Officials and Employees, where a municipal employee receives compensation from other than a municipality, in this case, a local newspaper. O’Connor never admitted to the School Committee, the State Ethics Commission or the people of Everett that he was being paid as an employee of the Leader Herald whole working for the City of Everett.
O’Connor even admitted to leaving his years of employment from 2017 to 2019 with the Leader Herald off his LinkedIn page, agreeing with Atty. Jeffrey Robbins that it would not have looked good listing both Leader Heraldand School Department.
Plenty to see here, folks
O’Connor was presented a Sept. 14, 2021, email where he showed concern over Tahiliani’s 2020-2021 Superintendent Evaluation where she was graded as Proficient by the School Committee, advised corrupt Leader Herald publisher Josh Resnek that if he was to write a story on the evaluation, to just “leave this alone,” ending his email with, “I’m not pretending this is gold because it’s not. But maybe if it’s presented in a certain way….” And as in a “certain way,” Resnek published a glowing front page, large type headline article that Tahiliani received high marks as superintendent when in fact she received just a proficient grade by the School Committee.
O’Connor was also aware that the surveillance cameras that Tahiliani claimed in a lawsuit were installed by the mayor were, in fact, not installed by the mayor but by former Supt. Forestiere over a decade ago prior to her taking the supt.’s position, but would neither question nor inform Tahiliani’s motivation or allegations of spying by the mayor. The cameras were installed by Forestiere to catch a custodian who was using the computer to find information on fellow employees. After an Arlington security company installed the cameras, they were disconnected a week later after catching the employee – well over a decade ago.
Tahiliani filed a lawsuit, one of two against the mayor and the City of Everett, which would be supported by Resnek’s inflammatory articles supporting the bogus allegations. O’Connor, who was promoted by Tahiliani as her Communications Coordinator, knew the situation regarding the cameras but stood by while Resnek used the information for stories in the Everett Leader Herald claiming the mayor had installed the cameras.
Ethics? What ethics?
Atty. Jeffrey Robbins questioned O’Connor’s ethics as to why he chose to ignore the facts and stand idly by as students held demonstrations as Tahiliani made false accusations despite his knowledge about the cameras. “…in all those months, for every day that you have access to her, you were never curious to ask her, do you have any evidence at all to make that charge?” asked Atty. Robbins about Tahiliani’s lawsuit.
“No, I did not,” replied O’Connor.
“Well, is your job – is one of your jobs as the communications coordinator for the Everett school system and the superintendent to know the facts relating to issues – public issues about the Everett school system?” asked the attorney.
“Yes,” he said.
“And you didn’t want to see if you could ascertain the facts about whether or not the superintendent’s charges were false?”
“No, I did not,” replied O’Connor.
O’Connor was then asked if he believes integrity is an important quality in a superintendent; and that being a model for the students is just as important. O’Connor agreed.
“And you would not want to have, as the leader of the students of the school system in the City of Everett, somebody who made dishonest or false charges; correct?” asked Robbins.
“Correct,” answered O’Connor.
According to O’Connor, he informed Tahiliani that he was working for the Leader Herald in 2020 and that she didn’t ask him to disclose his relationship with the newspaper to the Ethics Commission, and especially, the Everett School Committee.
“Did she tell you to disclose this to anyone?” asked the attorney.
Keeping their secrets
Questioning turned to an email exhibit between O’Connor and the corrupt Leader Herald publisher Resnek. In the back-and-forth emails between the two, Resnek, upset over O’Connor quitting as the paper’s page designer, hassles O’Connor into believing that the mayor will be celebrating O’Connor’s departure, stating in the email as he imagines the mayor saying, “There’s the Irish for you. They suck. They don’t stand with each other. I made him quit – and it cost him – and I’m [expletive] happy.”
Resnek ends his desperate email with, “How does he [mayor] know what you’re doing in the first place?”
The mayor didn’t, as it was a secret only O’Connor, Philbin, Resnek, Forestiere and Tahiliani knew.
Atty. Robbins asked O’Connor why he left the part-time, $300/week newspaper job; O’Connor stated that he thought it was best for the Everett school system, as an option and optically.
Resnek offered O’Connor the position when Philbin took control of the newspaper after his father, Andrew Philbin, Sr. purchased it in 2017. Robbins pointed out the irony of Resnek, a self-proclaimed investigative reporter who writes about corruption, has him on the Leader Herald payroll while O’Connor is working on the city payroll.
“Yes. I worked simultaneously, yes,” said O’Connor.
Like three peas in a pod
With respect to the weekly production of the newspaper, O’Connor described how close Resnek and Leader Herald owner Matthew Philbin worked together prior to going to press. As O’Connor finished the pages of the newspaper prior to sending them to the printer, O’Connor would be given the final edits on the phone with Resnek, saying, “It was clear that he and Matt worked in close collaboration because in relaying instructions to me, that would be evident.”
O’Connor stated that the editing of the weekly newspaper happened “regularly” where Resnek would tell him what Philbin wanted changed in the content of the articles. “And so, from that, you were able to observe from Mr. Resnek’s own mouth that Mr. Philbin was very much involved in the proofing, review, editing, changing, commenting on the content of the paper; correct?”
“Yes,” replied O’Connor.
O’Connor also admitted that Philbin was well aware that he was employed by the School Department and was unhappy that he was quitting the newspaper.
O’Connor stated that Resnek conveyed to him on numerous occasions how much he despised the mayor and that Philbin wanted to harm DeMaria with the newspaper.
When asked if he ever disclosed to the mayor, anyone at City Hall or the State Ethics Commission that he was involved in placing taxpayer-paid ads with the Leader Herald, O’Connor stated he did not, despite claiming to the attorney that he had received ethics training by the State Ethics Commission.
O’Connor confirmed to the attorney that since Philbin began publishing the Leader Herald in 2017, and working on a part-time basis as the newspaper’s “pagenizer,” Resnek wrote all the articles about the mayor through 2022. Robbins asked him if he ever stated that the articles Resnek was writing about the mayor were having a very significant negative impact on the mayor from talking to people in Everett; O’Connor agreed. “So, to recap, you knew that Mr. Resnek’s articles were having a very damaging impact on Mr. DeMaria’s reputation from talking to people in Everett on a weekly basis; correct?”
“Yes,” replied O’Connor.
Truth – he can’t handle the truth
Questioning turned to the articles written by Resnek claiming that the mayor only wanted to become a voting member of the School Committee after Supt. Tahiliani was hired in 2020, replacing Janice Gauthier, who took over for Forestiere following his resignation in 2019. As the case with thousands of municipalities throughout the United States, mayors, such as Malden and Revere, are voting members of the school committee. Tahiliani made the accusation that the mayor, along with allegations of placing surveillance cameras to spy on her, wanted to be a voting member of the School Committee after she became superintendent.
“Do you think that a superintendent of schools who makes false claims is qualified to the superintendent?” asked the attorney.
“No,” replied O’Connor.
Upon discovery of O’Connor’s employment status with the Leader Herald, under fire following admission of lies and fabrications by its corrupt publisher, it is clear that the School Committee should ask Supt. Tahiliani the relevant questions and produce the relevant documents about what she knew about O’Connor’s double-dipping and when and what if she did anything about it.
Although O’Connor wasn’t employed by the Leader Herald while working under Tahiliani, questions remain for the School Committee: Had she promoted O’Connor, who had committed egregious conflict of interest violations, while on notice that he had done so; while not disclosing his employment relationship to the School Committee and the State Ethics Commission; and did she use O’Connor’s intimate relationship with the Leader Herald for her own benefit – a benefit which she would risk blowing up if she came clean?
Next week: Double-Dipping Double Agent.