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Walsh Orders Tougher Ethics Standards For Boston Zoning Board

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in the WBUR studio in May 2019 (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in the WBUR studio in May 2019 (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal will crack down on potential conflicts of interest, and work with a new ombudsman under an executive order Mayor Marty Walsh signed Monday in response to a corruption scandal that resulted in a prison sentence for a former city employee.

Starting immediately, board members cannot vote on matters in which they have held financial interests in the past five years; the previous standard was two years.

In addition, members can no longer take financial interests in projects immediately after voting on them. They must now wait at least two years.

New requirements for board members also include annual financial disclosures and periodic ethics training.

The ombudsman will be an employee of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department and serve as a zoning sherpa of sorts, helping inexperienced project applicants navigate the complicated world of city development. The stated goal is to make real estate development — particularly small-scale home improvements — more accessible.

Walsh’s order also provides for expanded translation services.

“I want to assure the residents of Boston that they can have confidence in the Zoning Board of Appeal and that we will protect what we love about our neighborhoods as we grow and evolve,” Walsh said at a City Hall news conference.

The reforms follow a review of city zoning practices that Walsh ordered last August after a former official at the Boston Planning and Development Agency, John Lynch, admitted to taking a $50,000 bribe. Lynch accepted the payoff from a condominium developer who sought a favorable ruling from the Zoning Board of Appeal. In exchange for money, Lynch attempted to influence the vote of a board member.

Federal prosecutors never named the member. Craig Galvin — who worked with Lynch in the private sector — resigned from the zoning board shortly after Lynch was charged with bribery and tax fraud. On the condo project at the center of the case, Galvin voted as Lynch hoped, helping the developer who paid the bribe turn a $500,000 profit.

On a separate condo project proposed by Lynch, Galvin voted in favor then acted as Lynch’s real estate broker. Walsh’s new ethics standards would prohibit such a scenario in the future.

Lynch was sentenced in January to 40 months in prison; he will begin serving the term in April.

Related:

Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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