The State Ethics Commission has completed its review of the complaint against Board of Parks (BOP) Member Peter Finnegan and determined that the matter did not warrant further action and closed its file. Below is our related Statement.
An ethics charge should not be lightly made. It should not be used to intimidate or to chill. Given its reputation-affecting capacity, it should be predicated only on the most solid factual foundation. While he knew from the start that there was absolutely no factual foundation to the complaint, Mr. Finnegan is very pleased that the Commission determined that no action was warranted and has closed its file.
As you know, the complaint arose from a vote Mr. Finnegan took on March 8, 2017 as a BOP Member related to the so-called “Cawley site” (Cawley) as a potential location for a new Lowell High School (LHS). The law required this vote. Article 97 of the Commonwealth’s Constitution, approved by MA voters in 1972, which authorized the Commonwealth to acquire conservation easements, and which was intended to be a legislative “check” to ensure that lands acquired for conservation purposes – such as Cawley – were not “converted” to other inconsistent uses, mandated that the City obtain, among other things, the unanimous vote of the BOP if it wished to convert Cawley to a new LHS.
Article 97 also required that public spaces such as Cawley should not be converted absent “exceptional circumstances” and that those exceptional circumstances include, among other things, that “all” other options be explored and no “feasible and substantially equivalent” alternatives exist, and that real estate of “equal or greater value” be available to replace what was to be converted. Mr. Finnegan knew that the new LHS Cawley proposal involved the conversion of additional green spaces without adequate replacement and so he voted, “No.”
Importantly, Mr. Finnegan strongly felt that he was doing what he had been called upon to do as a member of the BOP whose mission is to protect public open spaces in Lowell. He didn’t sit on the School Building Committee which, together with its consultant, vetted the possible LHS sites, and based on the information provided, winnowed them down; and his job had not been to research the proposed sites to determine whether any came with any land use restrictions. Rather, his role was to fulfill his obligation to the citizens of Lowell as a member of the BOP, the sole protector of Lowell’s public green spaces.
As circumstances have shown, Mr. Finnegan voted wisely. In the wake of his vote, the City has been compelled to seek to do what the law requires — to locate and identify real estate of “equal or greater value” to replace what was to be converted.
Mr. Finnegan’s vote was also courageous — a great example for all elected officials to emulate. Enormous pressure was brought to bear on him to vote otherwise. A board member’s job, though, is to do what the board and the law expect and require him to do, not to simply blow with the political winds or bend to pressure or threats from some. In voting as he did, he was following what he knew his obligation and the law to be.
As those who know Mr. Finnegan understand, he is a good and decent man who has given back a great deal to his community of Lowell, especially to its young people. For nearly two decades, he coached youth baseball, serving as his local field’s baseball Commissioner for six of those years. For five years, he was a Board Member (and then President) of what is now Greater Lowell Youth Hockey. In 1999, he founded Lowell Youth Lacrosse, serving as its President for the next decade. From 1999-2010, and then in 2016, he coached JV Boys Lacrosse at LHS. Since 1999, he has been a member of the BOP, serving as its Vice Chair since 2006 — at no point receiving any compensation.
The City wants citizens to serve on its boards, and to take their responsibilities seriously. Regardless of one’s position on the siting of the new LHS, then, Peter Finnegan should be respected as a first-rate example of an involved citizen and community member, and for taking a courageous, principled vote based on what he reasonably understood his board membership and the law required him to do.
All for now.
Gallagher & Cavanaugh LLP
The Gaslight Building