Holyoke mayoral candidate’s campaign video raises ethics concern

  • A political ad for Holyoke mayoral candidate Joshua Garcia shows him sitting at his desk in Blandford, where he is town administrator. A town resident has said he intends to file an ethics complaint about the shot, which he said is a campaign ethics violation. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 8/18/2021 9:21:47 AM

HOLYOKE — A mayoral candidate has re-edited a campaign video after a complaint that it violated state ethics rules barring public employees from using public resources in connection with political campaigns.

In a two-second clip played during a 30-second campaign ad, Blandford Town Administrator and Holyoke mayoral hopeful Joshua Garcia could be seen sitting at his desk in Blandford’s Town Hall. “This is where I work,” his voiceover said, with text reading “town administrator, Blandford” next to him. Later in the video, he urged city voters to cast their ballot for him.

That was enough to convince James Balicki, a Blandford resident, to complain that Garcia had violated state ethics rules.

“I am disgusted over the misuse of our taxpayer resources by our town administrator as he runs for the mayor of Holyoke,” Balicki said in an email to news outlets and the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. He added that he would be contacting the state’s Ethics Commission over the matter.

Garcia said he accepts responsibility for the infraction. His campaign took down the video and then republished a new version showing the outside of the building, with no mention of his title as town administrator.

“I take full responsibility and I’m sorry,” he said. “Rules are rules.”

State law restricts how public employees can take part in political activity or use public resources in connection with political activity.

In a 2011 advisory, the Ethics Commission, as an example of prohibited activity, described the hypothetical example of an incumbent Select Board member who is seeking reelection making a campaign video inside the Select Board’s meeting room, which is not for private use under town policy, and in front of the town’s seal.

“This violates the law, because the Selectman is using her official position to gain access to and use the meeting room and the town seal, both of which are public resources, for the private purpose of securing her reelection to the Board,” the advisory reads.

A lifelong Holyoke resident who grew up in South Holyoke, Garcia has served as Blandford’s chief executive since 2018. He said the short clip was shot on a weekend and was intended to show that he has experience running a municipality. And his focus has always remained fully on his duties as town administrator, he said.

“Blandford is my number one priority,” Garcia said.

Garcia said that his policy is to always be transparent, and that was the case in this situation. He said he had told his Select Board’s chairperson about filming in his office outside of his work hours and communicated with the Select Board immediately after being made aware of the possible ethics violation. He said he also reached out to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance as well as ethics officials, who informed him of the relevant laws.

In a statement released by Garcia’s campaign, the chairwoman of Blandford’s Select Board, Cara Letendre, said that she and Garcia did have a conversation prior to his filming and that at the time she didn’t think it was a conflict. She said Garcia has been a “highly professional, self-driven and forward-thinking” town manager who has led Blandford out of deficits to greater financial health.

“Since Mr. Garcia announced his plans to run for the position in Holyoke he has been transparent and dedicated in the separation of his Town duties and campaign,” Letendre said. “In fact, on one occasion he was unable to attend a forum discussion with other candidates as it was scheduled during a Select Board meeting.”

Garcia said after being made aware of the violation, he immediately reached out to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance as well as ethics officials. He said he had no intention of using his public office for gain.

“The whole intent of the video was to communicate with the public that I have roots in my city, our city, but also as a candidate running for mayor I have experience,” he said. “This is what I do for a living.”

Garcia was previously municipal services manager with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and as a property manager with the Holyoke Housing Authority. He has also served as a member of the Holyoke School Committee and a city fire commissioner.

As for the impact of the misstep on the campaign trail, Garcia did not seem too concerned.

“If this is the worst thing they can find about me that I’ve done, I think I’m going to be OK,” he said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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