Topic:
ETHICS CODE;
Location:
CODE OF ETHICS;

OLR Research Report


December 22, 2003

 

2003-R-0947

MUNICIPAL ETHICS

By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney

Brandon T. Hooker, Research Fellow

You asked us how our State Code of Ethics compares to codes in other states regarding its application to municipal officials and employees. Specifically, you wanted to know (1) the current ethics law in Connecticut for municipal employees and those doing business with municipalities; (2) which states have a statewide municipal code; (3) whether the codes in these states are enforced by a single state (or quasi-state) agency; (4) whether these state codes restrict municipal employees' political activities; and (5) whether the codes prohibit municipal employees from participating in certain government decision-making.

SUMMARY

The Connecticut State Ethics Code (the “code”) for public officials (there is a separate code for lobbyists) is designed to prevent state officials and employees from using their public position or authority for their personal financial gain. The code does not apply to municipal officials or employees. Instead, municipalities have the authority to adopt their own code of ethical conduct (CGS 7-148(c)(10)(B)). Most municipalities have exercised this authority by establishing their own codes or adopting the model code of ethics for municipalities that the law required the State Ethics Commission to draft in 1995. A local ethics board or commission and not the state commission enforces any municipal code, model or otherwise.

We have identified 22 states with a statewide code of ethics that applies to public officials and employees, including those officials and employees at the municipal level. These states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia. Washington's statewide municipal code is separate from its statewide code for state officials and employees.

The codes in most of these states are applicable to all municipal officials and employees, but a few states, Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, have codes that apply to only certain specified officials and employees.

In most of the 22 states, the codes are enforced by the equivalent of our State Ethics Commission. California, Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, and Washington have local code enforcement.

None of the codes in these 22 states restrict municipal employees' political activities. In a few states, the code prohibits employees from engaging in partisan political activities while at work. But most states, like Connecticut, have likely codified this prohibition and other restrictions on such activities outside of the code.

Connecticut law allows municipal employees to run for and hold elective office with certain exceptions (CGS 7-421). Employees can receive an unpaid leave of absence to accept a full-time elective office for as long as two consecutive terms of office or four years whichever is shorter. The town may extend the leave and its terms and conditions, at its discretion. When the leave expires, the employee must be reinstated in his most recent position, given one with equivalent pay or another position, or a rehiring preference.

A municipal employee has the right to serve on any governmental body as an elected or appointed official in the town where he lives with some restrictions. An employee cannot serve on a body that is responsible for directly supervising him in his job. The law also bans service on (1) boards of finance; (2) bodies exercising planning, zoning, or land use powers; and (3) bodies regulating inland wetlands and watercourses. However, the ban on service on a board of finance does not apply if (1) a local charter or home rule ordinance explicitly allows it or (2) the official serves only in his capacity as a member of the town's legislative body. The prohibitions against service on the other bodies do not apply if (1) a local charter or home rule ordinance explicitly allows it,

(2) the town's legislative body adopts an ordinance permitting an employee to serve, or (3) the official serves only in his capacity as a member of the town's legislative body.

Additionally, regulations implementing the federal Hatch Act prohibit a local employee from being a candidate for elective public office in a partisan election when the individual's “principal employment is in connection with an activity which is financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States or a federal agency but does not include an individual who exercises no functions in connection with that activity” (5 CFR 151. 101 et seq.).

Prohibitions against municipal employees participating in certain government decision-making vary by state. But generally state codes prohibit municipal officials or employees from taking official action on matters in which they or members of their immediate family or associated business stand to receive some type of financial advantage.

The remainder of this report consists of a comparison of the laws in the 22 states with a statewide municipal ethics code.

Table 1: Comparison of Statewide Municipal Ethics Codes

States

Officials' Code Covers*

Municipal Employee Participation in Government Decision-Making

Alabama

36-25 et seq.

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees

No official or employee can be a member or employee of a state, county, or city board that regulates any business with which he is associated.

Alaska

39.50 et seq.

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees

No official or employee, other than a member of the governing body, can participate in an official action

Arkansas

21-8 et seq.

Appears to apply to local elected and appointed officials, and employees

No board member of an entity receiving state funds can participate in, vote on, influence, or attempt to influence an official decision if he has a pecuniary interest in the matter under consideration by the entity. 

The board member may participate in, vote on, influence, or attempt to influence an official decision if the only pecuniary interest that may accrue to him is incidental to his position or accrues to him as a member of a profession, occupation, or large class to no greater extent than the pecuniary interest could reasonably be foreseen to accrue to all other members of the profession, occupation, or large class. 

The member cannot participate in any discussion or vote on a rule or regulation that exclusively benefits the member. 

California

Gov. Code 81000 et seq.

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees*

Each agency must adopt a conflict of interest code, which must at a minimum prohibit anyone from taking action on a matter that would inure a special benefit to him or members of his immediate family or associated business.

Colorado

24-18 et seq.

Yes, but only elected or appointed officials; not employees

A member of a local governing body who has a personal or private interest in any matter proposed or pending before such body must disclose the interest and refrain from voting thereon or attempting to influence other members' votes.

Florida

Chapter 112

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees

No county, municipal, or other local public officer can vote on an official measure that would inure to his special private gain or loss.

Georgia

21-5 et seq.

Yes, but only elected municipal officals and elected members of local boards of education

N/A

Kansas

75-4304

Limited, single prohibition that applies to local elected and appointed officials, and employees*

No local governmental officer or employee can, in his capacity as an officer or employee, make or participate in the making of a contract with any person or business by which the officer or employee is employed or in whose business the officer or employee has a substantial interest.

Louisiana

42-1101 et seq.

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees

No public servant can participate in any transaction that would personally benefit him or his immediate family or associated business.

Massachusetts

Chapter 268A

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees*

No member of a municipal commission or board is eligible for appointment or election by the members of such commission or board to any office or position under the supervision of such commission or board.  The prohibition does not apply to a member of a town commission or board, if the appointment or election is first been approved at an annual town meeting of the town.

Mississippi

25-4-1 et seq.

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees

N/A

Missouri

105-450 et seq.

Yes, but only officials, appointees, or employees of a municipal governing body with a general operating budget in excess of $1 million

Cannot attempt to influence any decision of any agency (1) in which he is an officer or employee or (2) over which he has supervisory power, when he knows the decision may result in the acceptance of a service contract or the sale, rental, or lease of any property to that agency for more than $500 per transaction or $1,500 per annum to him or his immediate family or associated business. The prohibition does not apply if the transaction is made pursuant to an award on a contract let or sale made after public notice and, in the case of property other than real property, competitive bidding, provided that the bid or offer accepted is the lowest received.

No member of any agency who (1) is empowered to adopt a rule or regulation, other than rules and regulations governing the internal affairs of the agency, (2) is empowered to fix any rate, adopt zoning or land use planning regulations or plans, or (3) participates in or votes on the adoption of any such rule, regulation, rate or plan can attempt to influence or participate in the decision-making if he or his immediate family or an associated business would receive a direct financial gain or loss.

Montana

2-2-101 et seq.

Yes, but the only local officers affected are those who are elected *

An employee-member of a quasi-judicial board or commission or of a board, commission, or committee with rulemaking authority must disclose any potential conflict prior to taking official action on any matter that would create the appearance of impropriety regarding his influence, benefit, or detriment in regard to the matter.


 A public officer or employee cannot perform an official act directly and substantially affecting a business or other undertaking to its economic detriment when he has a substantial personal interest in a competing firm or undertaking. This prohibition does not prevent a member of the governing body of a local government from performing an official act when the member
's participation is necessary to obtain a quorum or to otherwise enable the body to act.

A public officer or employee may not participate in a proceeding when an organization in which he is an officer or director is:

1. involved in a proceeding before the employing agency that is within the scope of his job duties or

2. attempting to influence a local, state, or federal proceeding in which he represents the state or local government.

Nebraska

49-1401 et seq.

Yes, specifically includes elected or appointed members of school boards or institutions of higher education

A public official in a primary metropolitan area must disclose any financial benefit or detriment to himself, his immediate family, or an associated business caused by any action or decision he makes in his official capacity. This duty does not prevent such a person from (1) making or participating in the making of a governmental decision if his participation is legally required for the action or decision to be made or (2) making or participating in the making of a governmental decision if the potential conflict of interest is based upon a business association and the business association exists only as the result of his or her position on a commodity board.

Nevada

281.411 et seq.

Yes, but only those working for state or local officers in a position to exercise public power, trust or duty. “Public officer” does not include: (1) court officers, (2) advisory board or commission members, (3) any member of a board of trustees for a general improvement district or special district whose official duties do not include the formulation of a budget for the district or the authorization of the expenditure of the district's money, or

(4 a county health officer. 

A public officer or employee cannot participate as an agent of government in the negotiation or execution of a contract between the government and any private business in which he has a significant pecuniary interest.

Ohio

102.01 et seq.

Does not apply to people appointed or elected to precinct wards, members of district council, or educators who do not perform administrative or supervisory functions

No public official or employee can participate, except on a ministerial level, in any license or rate-making proceeding that directly affects the license or rates of any (1) person, partnership, trust, business trust, corporation, or association in which the public official or employee or immediate family owns or controls more than five per cent or (2) person to whom the public official or employee or immediate family, or a partnership, trust, business trust, corporation, or association of which the public official or employee or the public official's or employee's immediate family owns or controls more than five per cent, has sold goods or services totaling more than $1,000 during the preceding year, unless the public official or employee has filed a written statement acknowledging that sale with the clerk or secretary of the public agency and the statement is entered in any public record of the agency's proceedings.

Oregon

Ch. 244

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees

City or county planning commission members cannot participate in any commission proceeding or action in which any of the following has a direct or substantial financial interest:

1. The member or the spouse, brother, sister, child, parent, father-in-law, mother-in-law of the member;

2. Any business in which the member is then serving or has served within the previous two years; or

3. Any business with which the member is negotiating for or has an arrangement or understanding concerning prospective partnership or employment.

Pennsylvania

65 Pa. Cons. Stat. 1102

Only officials or employees responsible for taking or suggesting official action of a nonministerial nature regarding contracting or purchasing; administering or monitoring grants or subsidies; planning and zoning; inspecting, licensing, regulating, or auditing people; or other action with more than de minimus impact

N/A

Rhode Island

36-14 et seq.

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees

If a person or his immediate family or associated business would directly benefit from the person's exercise of his duties, he must disclose the nature of the conflict. If the person is not a legislator, his superior, if any, must take reasonable steps to assign the matter to another person who does not have a conflict of interest. If he has no immediate superior, he must take steps to remove himself from the influence he has over any action on the matter.

South Carolina

8-13 et seq.

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees

No public employee may make or participate in making a governmental decision in which he, a member of his immediate family, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated has an economic interest. An employee who is so affected but who is required to take action in the discharge of his official responsibilities must disclose his interest.

No person may be an employee of the regulatory agency which regulates a business with which he is associated if this relationship creates a continuing or frequent conflict with the performance of his official responsibilities. A member of a regulatory agency that occasionally regulates an associated business must annually file a statement of economic interests.

Washington

42.23 et seq.

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees*

An officer cannot vote to authorize, approve, or ratify a contract that benefits him even though the contact is allowed by law.

West Virginia

6b-1-1 et seq.

Local elected and appointed officials, and employees

No employee may participate, except through ministerial functions, in any license or rate-making proceeding that directly affects the license or rates of any person, partnership, trust, business trust, corporation or association in which the employee or his immediate family owns or controls more than 10%. “Ministerial functions” means actions or functions performed by an individual under a given state of facts in a prescribed manner in accordance with a mandate of legal authority, without regard to, or without the exercise of, such individual's own judgment as to the propriety of the action being taken.

*A statewide board or commission enforces the code unless otherwise indicated.

California's Fair Practices Commission has local enforcement divisions.

In Kansas, failure to disclosure substantial conflicts of interest with the county elections official is a Class B misdemeanor.

Massachusetts' code violations are criminal acts. Complaints may be filed with the statewide commission, district attorney, or the city.

In Montana, the county attorney or a 3-member panel that municipalities have the authority to establish enforces the code.

In Washington, code violations by local officials or employees are enforced by the effected municipality.

SN-E:ro