Mayor Sue Hack won't be prosecuted for violating the state's conflict of interest laws, although the state attorney general's office said today she technically violated portions of the act and created an "appearance of impropriety."
In a letter released Tuesday afternoon, Attorney General Paul Morrison's office said it was declining to prosecute Hack for a failure to properly file a document listing her ownership interest in Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, a company that city commissioners have agreed to give more than $1 million in economic development incentives.
Hack on Tuesday said she was pleased with the decision and said she never intended to hide her interest in the company from the public. Instead, she said she simply didn't understand the requirements of the law.
"I've thought a lot the last few weeks about how many times I told my students to read the directions," said Hack, a retired junior high school teacher. "Ms. Hack should have followed her own advice."
Investigators with Morrison's office said Hack didn't properly fill out a state-mandated Statement of Substantial Interest form showing that she owned more than $5,000 in stock in the Lawrence-based company. But Assistant Attorney General Barry Disney said the violation was technical in nature and would not be prosecuted.
Disney wrote that because Hack had verbally disclosed her ownership interest in the company, she had mitigated the damage of mistakenly not filing the form. She also abstained from the vote to give Deciphera up to $125,000 a year for 10 years in city money.
But Hack did participate in a closed-door executive session where the Deciphera deal was discussed. Allegations had been made that Hack's participation in that meeting constituted a violation of the state law prohibiting elected officials who have a substantial interest in a company from participating in the making of a contract with that company.
The attorney general's office, however, said it didn't have the necessary evidence to prosecute Hack on that issue. Disney wrote that "there is no evidence that Mayor Hack participated in this meeting in any way other than by her attendance."
'Appearance of impropriety'
A spokeswoman with the attorney general's office said city officials provided a description of what took place in the closed-door meeting, and that description indicated that Hack did not offer any opinions or participate in any discussion regarding the matter.
But Disney said Hack's participation in the closed-door meeting was questionable.
"I do believe her attendance created an appearance of impropriety," Disney wrote.
If Hack had been convicted of violating that portion of the state's conflict of interest laws, she would have been required to resign her office.
Hack said she now wishes she had not gone into the meeting.
"Knowing what I now know, I absolutely would not go into it," Hack said. "But I went in there with the right intentions."
Executive session investigated
It is not clear why Hack went into the meeting and did not discuss the issue in any way. But Hack said that was the case. Investigators are relying on information provided by city leaders to confirm that. The city does not make any recording of the closed-door executive sessions and does not keep any written minutes.
The city is not required to do so by law, and Hack said she would be against adopting a policy that would require the city to tape record the meetings to provide to investigators when open meetings violations are alleged.
Hack said she wouldn't support the idea because she would be concerned such tapes could fall into the wrong hands and reveal personnel information or other matters that the law allows to remain private.
City Manager David Corliss said he does expect the City Commission to have an open conversation about how executive sessions should be used in the future.
All five city commissioners could still be prosecuted for violating the state's open meetings law. The attorney general's office is investigating whether the closed-door executive session on the Deciphera matter violated the state's open meetings act. That investigation is ongoing.