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Things to Know as an Appointed Member of the State Rehabilitation Council

What this presentation is not:

• This presentation is not an in depth training on the role and responsibilities of the SRC and its appointed members.  There exists a comprehensive online SRC training series at www.erehab.org/SRC.  The training is free.

• This presentation is not an in depth training on the ins and outs of the State Open Meeting Law.  Each appointed member of the SRC should have received materials providing a description of the rules governing meetings held by a public body and governing deliberations among a quorum of Council members.  Representatives from the AG’s office are available to provide training to the Council.  There are also comprehensive OML resources available at http://www.mass.gov/ago/openmeeting.

• This presentation is not an in depth training on the ethical standards applicable to appointed SRC members.  The State Ethics Commission has a comprehensive web site and training materials available to address any questions you may have regarding your ethical obligations and conflict of interest.  The Ethics Commission is the authoritative source of opinion on matters governed by the state’s conflict of interest law.  Each day an Ethics Commission attorney is available via phone to provide informal advice and opinion to individuals with questions regarding the Conflict of Interest Law.  The number is (617) 371-9500 / (888) 485-4766.

What this presentation is:

• This presentation will provide you with an overview of the role of the SRC.  I will briefly describe the SRC’s involvement in the development of the State Plan, its participation in the assessment of Customer satisfaction and the statewide needs assessment, and the establishment of goals and priorities for the MRC and the Council.

• This presentation will provide you with knowledge of the basic requirements of the Open Meeting Law and the obligations of the SRC and its appointed members under the law.

• This presentation will provide you with a summary of certain provisions of the State Conflict of Interest Law that apply specifically to “special state employees”; the term in the law that describes appointed members of the SRC.

Role of the SRC

The SRC acts as a voice for consumers and other stakeholders in the public vocational rehabilitation system.  The Council advocates for the VR program to both the state VR agency and to the public at large.  The SRC works in partnership with the agency toward a common goal: maximizing employment and independent living for people with disabilities.

• The State Plan is the agreement between the MRC and the Federal government (RSA).  Federal funds for vocational rehabilitation and supported employment are allotted to the state for the promise that those funds will be spent in accord with the laws and regulations governing their expenditure.

• Every three years the MRC and the SRC must conduct a Comprehensive Statewide Needs Assessment.  The objectives of the assessment concern the VR needs of individuals in Massachusetts including: the need for supported employment; the needs of unserved and underserved populations; the needs of individuals with disabilities served through the state’s workforce investment system and; the need to develop and improve Community Rehabilitation Programs.

• The SRC is required to conduct a review and analysis of Consumer satisfaction.  The review and analysis focus on three areas: Consumer satisfaction with functions performed by the MRC; Consumer satisfaction with the VR services provided by the MRC and service providers and; Consumer satisfaction with employment outcomes, including the benefits received upon employment.

• The MRC and the SRC collaborate to develop the goals and priorities for the agency.  The MRC and SRC establish clear, measurable goals that will assist the program in moving from its current state to one which is better able to meet needs of consumers identified through the comprehensive needs assessment, the survey of consumer satisfaction and the standards and indicators of program performance established by the RSA.  Data gathered and reported by Bill Noone’s Research and Development team help to inform the formulation of goals and priorities.

The SRC is also required to prepare an Annual Report on the status of the VR program for both the Governor and the RSA.  The annual report is a public document, available to anyone interested in the performance of the SRC and the MRC.

The Open Meeting Law (M.G.L. c. 30A §§ 18 – 25)

“The purpose of the Open Meeting Law is to ensure transparency in the deliberations on which public policy is based. Because the democratic process depends on the public having knowledge about the considerations underlying governmental action, the Open Meeting Law requires, with some exceptions, that meetings of public bodies be open to the public. It also seeks to balance the public's interest in witnessing the deliberations of public officials with the government's need to manage its operations efficiently.”

MRC's State Rehabilitation Council meetings are covered by the OML when:

  1. There is communication between current members of the SRC;
  2. The communication constitute a deliberation (see discussion below);
  3. The communication involves a matter within SRC's jurisdiction (any matter of public business on which a quorum of the public body may make a decision or recommendation); and
  4. The communication does not fall within an exception (i.e., on-site inspection, executive sessions, others).

DELIBERATION: A deliberation is any oral or written communication through any medium, including electronic mail, between or among a quorum (see below) of SRC members on any public business within its jurisdiction. Distribution of an agenda, scheduling, or reports / documents is helpful but generally does not constitute deliberation unless a member expresses an opinion on matters within the body's jurisdiction.

QUORUM: The OML defines a quorum as a simple majority of the members of a public body, unless otherwise provided. In a FAQ, the Attorney General's Office (AGO) explains that when there is a vacancy on a public body, a quorum is still measured by the number of members of the public body as established by law or regulation, not by the number of members actually serving on the body.

If a meeting does not have a quorum of members physically present, the SRC would not be under an obligation to create and retain meeting minutes (see below). However, the SRC would not be able to vote on or take deliberative action. In the absence of a quorum, the SRC may still go over and beyond the intent of the OML by creating and retaining meeting minutes and serving in an advisory capacity.                                          

CERTIFICATIONS: Within two weeks of a SRC member's appointment or the taking of the oath of office, whichever occurs later, the member is required to complete a Certificate of Receipt of Open Meeting Law Materials certifying that they have received the Open Meeting Law itself, the AGO's regulations, and the OML Guide, and that they understand the OML requirements as well as the consequences for violating the OML. The certification must be retained where MRC maintains its official records. If a Certificate has not yet been completed by a SRC member, the member should complete and submit the Certificate at the earliest opportunity to be considered in compliance with the law.

MEETING NOTICES: The SRC is required to provide the public with notice of its meetings at least 48 hours in advance (excluding weekends and holidays). This notice must be posted on MRC's website.  A copy of the notice must also be sent to the Secretary of State's Regulation Division, and should be forwarded to the Executive Office of Administration and Finance. These notices must contain the date, time, and place of the meeting; and list all topics that the Council reasonably anticipates will be discussed at the meeting. The list of topics must be sufficiently specific to reasonably inform the public of the issues to be discussed at the meeting.

MEETING MINUTES: The SRC is required to create and maintain minutes of all meetings. The minutes must be created and approved in a timely manner, and must state the date, time and place of the meeting, a list of the members present or absent, and the decisions made and actions taken including a record of all votes. Minutes must also include the name of any member who participated remotely and the reason for doing so. A summary (but not a transcript) of discussions on each subject must be included. The minutes must include a list (but not actual copies) of documents and other exhibits used at the meeting. These minutes, documents, and exhibits should be retained and stored by MRC. MRC is not required to post these minutes publicly, but these minutes are public record and may be subject to disclosure under either the Open Meeting Law or the Public Records Law.

REMOTE PARTICIPATION: The OML and implementing regulations now allow for remote participation in certain circumstances. The SRC is required to vote, by a simple majority of a quorum of its members, to adopt remote participation. Once adopted, members can participate remotely at any time until the SRC "opts out" of the practice altogether. Remote participation is allowed if the person chairing the meeting determines that one of the following factors makes the member's physical attendance unreasonably difficult: 1) Personal illness; 2) Personal disability; 3) Emergency; 4) Military service; or 5) Geographic distance. Remote participation can be done via telephone, internet, audio / video conferencing, video relay, TTY, or any other technology that enables participants to be clearly audible to one other. However, a quorum of the SRC, including the person chairing the meeting, is required to be physically present at the meeting location.

 

Conflict of Interest, M.G.L. c. 268A, Appointed Members of State Advisory Councils

As an Appointed SRC member, are you a "special state employee" for purposes of the conflict of interest law?

You are a "special state employee" under the conflict of interest law if you are serving in a state agency in a position for which no compensation is provided.

Example. You are an advisory council member of a state agency. You are not paid, but may be reimbursed for expenses. You are a special state employee.

How does the conflict of interest law apply to special state employees?

As a special state employee, you are subject to all the provisions in the conflict of interest law that apply to "state employees" except where the statute specifically sets out less restrictive provisions for special state employees.

Two provisions of the conflict of interest law, section 4 and section 7, apply less restrictively to special state employees. Section 4 restricts the extent to which a state employee may engage in activities on behalf of other people and organizations in matters in which the state has an interest. Section 7 prohibits state employees from having a financial interest in a state contract, unless an exemption applies. Most state board or commission members volunteer their time or receive nominal stipends. In recognition of the need to avoid unduly restricting the ability of board and commission members to earn a living while serving the state, sections 4 and 7 provide more options for special state employees.

Section 4: Acting for Others in State Matters

Section 4 is intended to prevent divided loyalties between responsibilities as a state employee and private interests. Generally, the restrictions in section 4 for special state employees will limit the ability to work for or represent other people and organizations in connection with particular matters before the state council or commission on which they serve, but will not prevent such work before other state agencies.

If you have a compensated non-public position, section 4 will not prohibit you from receiving your usual compensation during time spent serving in an uncompensated state position.

Section 7: Financial Interest in a State Contract

Section 7 prohibits a state employee from having a financial interest in a state contract, unless an exemption applies. This section is intended to prevent "double-dipping" in situations where a state employee has a second, paid arrangement involving the state, such as a job or a financial interest in a contract. It does not apply to any financial interest which consists of the ownership of less than 1 percent of the stock of a corporation.

Special state employees may be eligible for three exemptions from this prohibition:

  • If your Council position is uncompensated, you may retain financial interests that you had in state contracts before you began your state service. This includes any appointed, paid state position you held at the time. If you hold such a position, you have to file a disclosure with your appointing authority in that position disclosing that you have been elected or appointed to the uncompensated Council.
  • You may use an exemption under section 7(d) to have a financial interest in a state contract if, in your capacity as a Council member, you do not participate in or have official responsibility for any of the activities of the state agency that made the contract. You must file a disclosure with the State Ethics Commission of your financial interest in the contract.
  • If neither of those exemptions covers a specific situation, then you may seek an exemption from the Governor under section 7(e). In that situation, you must file a disclosure with the State Ethics Commission of your and your immediate family's financial interest in the contract, along with the written exemption you obtain from the Governor.

What other provisions of the conflict of interest law apply to special state employees?

As a special state employee, you are subject to prohibitions that apply to other state employees: the prohibitions on bribes, gifts, participating in matters in which you or those close to you have a financial interest, misuse of your position to benefit yourself or others, and the improper disclosure of confidential information. You must file a written disclosure with your appointing authority if a relationship or affiliation you have with a person or organization would cause a reasonable person to think you could have a conflict of interest while performing your duties as a Council member.

 


This information is provided by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.