HANSON — Select Board member Jim Hickey says he has been cleared on an alleged ethics complaint for removing COVID test kits from a locked file cabinet in Town Hall. Hickey said his intent was to distribute the kits among Town Hall employees this past January.
But a town official familiar with the situation said that conclusion was incorrect, describing the decision as one that, more accurately indicates only that it was nothing they needed to take action over. The official said Hickey had spoken to several people and was told what he did was wrong and that involving Town Hall employees in gaining access to the kits was “problematic.”
Hickey informed the Whitman-Hanson Express on Thursday, Aug. 4 that he had been contacted by the state Ethics Commission in a recent phone call. By the end of the week, he said, they called to inform him that he had been cleared.
“There have been no public enforcement actions by the commission” on the matter, according to Gerry Tuoti, senior public information and communications director with the Ethics Commission said Tuesday. Without a public enforcement action, Tuoti said he could neither confirm nor deny that a complaint had either been filed or ruled upon.
Hickey said that a representative of the Ethics Commission called him Thursday, July 28 to inform him about the complaint. He said he related the entire situation to her because he wanted “to make sure she knew everything,” Hickey explained.
Town Administrator Lisa Green was also called about the incident.
Hickey said he had spoken to Theresa Cocio at the Board of Health after he received the Ethics Commission call. She told him not to do it again, according to Hickey about his taking the kits. Cocio said Monday that she didn’t know about the complaint.
“I was the only one that didn’t get [COVID] in my whole house,” Hickey said. “Everybody had it but me.”
His wife had not been feeling well and Hickey said he felt he had a right, as a town employee, albeit an elected volunteer, to test kits that he had been buying at the pharmacy.
“I was so mad that the Fire Department had [the test kits], the Police Department had them, they had them here (at the Senior Center, where he spoke), they had them at the Highway Department,” Hickey said. “Everybody had them, except for the Town Hall employees.”
The town had just received 3,000 test kits and the state was planning to deliver 7,000 more. The kits were paid for with grant money.
Contacted for comment this week, Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said she had not known of the situation.
“This is the first I’m hearing about it,” she said, when asked if any action would be taken by the Select Board. “We will need to look into whether the board needs to take any action.”
Whitman held the first of the two towns’ COVID test kit dispensing drive-throughs on Dec. 31, 2021 at Whitman Middle School. There were only 400 kits available for that event, which fire officials said was all they could obtain on short notice.
Hanson held their first drive-through event not long after that.
The state had recently made kits available to cities and towns with a higher population of people living below the federal poverty line instead of where the pandemic spike was worst, such as Bristol and Plymouth counties. Test kits at pharmacies were been selling for about $25 each at that time.
When Hanson held its first test kit dispersal, residents were limited to one kit containing two tests each, because the thought was there would be a big line, as Whitman had seen New Year’s Eve morning when all 400 kits were handed out before much more than an hour had passed — and there were still cars in line.
“There was no line,” he said of Hanson’s event. “We had a ton of them.”
“I’ll never know,” Hickey said about who might have reported it to the Ethics Commission. But he said he suspects it could have been either Health Agent Gil Amado or an employee in one of the offices on the same floor, because he had not distributed any test kits there.
Amado did not return a call for comment.
“That was my fault, I totally forgot,” he said of the oversight. “I honestly forgot all about them. Most of them up there are part-time.”
Hickey had asked Amado for a kit because his daughter, teacher, had contracted COVID at school. Amado called custodian Charlie Baker, and then gave him a kit from an unlocked closet where they were kept at that time. Hickey said that he took another test kit when Amado left.
Hickey said Green had unlocked the closet because she was asked to do so. Green was out of the office on a sick day Monday and was unavailable for comment.
“There were four of us at home,” Hickey said, noting he told Baker about it so the custodian would not get into trouble if it was discovered another kit had been taken.
Two days later, when Town Hall employees still hadn’t received a kit, he got the closet unlocked and distributed a case of kits among the building’s offices.