October 8, 1992

 

FACTS:


You are currently employed by the ABC Housing Authority
(Authority) as a leased housing inspector.[1] Apartments in the
leased housing rental assistance program are inspected on an annual
basis to ensure compliance with the building and sanitary codes.

You have recently purchased a two-family house. The property
is being managed by your daughter. Your property was part of the
Authority's leased housing program.[2] You did not inspect your own
property, nor did you have any influence on the outcome of any
inspection. Also, all rent payments arc handled by your agent.
 


QUESTION:

Does G.L. c. 268A permit you to receive housing assistance
payments from the Authority made on behalf of an eligible tenant
pursuant to the Authority's leased housing program?
 


ANSWER:

Yes.
 


DISCUSSION:

As an inspector with the Authority, you are a municipal
employee[3] for purposes of the conflict of interest law. G.L. c.
121B, s. 7.


Section 20


Section 20 prohibits a municipal employee from having a
financial interest directly or indirectly in a contract with a
municipal agency of the same city or town unless an exemption
applies.

Because you would be receiving rental payments which are
subsidized through the Authority's leased housing program, you
would be deemed to have a financial interest in a contract with the
same municipal agency by which you are employed.

Section 20, however, contains an exemption which may apply to
your situation. Section 20(h) provides that the prohibitions of
this section shall not apply:

to a municipal employee who is the owner of residential
rental property and rents such property to a tenant
receiving a rental subsidy administered by a local
housing authority, unless such employee is employed by
such local housing authority in a capacity in which he
has responsibility for the administration of such subsidy
programs.

The sole issue which we must address is whether as an employee
of the Authority, you have responsibility for the administration of
the leased housing subsidy program.

We conclude that in your position as an inspector, you do not
have "responsibility for the administration" of the Authority's
leased housing subsidy program. We recognize that you do in fact
play a role in the subsidy program. Nevertheless, we believe that
the exemption was not designed to exclude all employees of a
housing authority, particularly not those employees who have very
limited participation in the authority's subsidy programs. Rather,
we conclude that a housing authority employee would have to be in
a position to make or influence determinations regarding an
individual's receipt of a rental subsidy in order to have
responsibility for the program.

The legislative history of this exemption appears to support
our conclusion. In 1985, the Legislature considered a bill (House
No. 1564) proposed by the Commission, which set forth an exemption
allowing a municipal employee to receive housing assistance
payments on behalf of an eligible tenant, provided that the
municipal employee did not participate in or have official
responsibility for the activities of the local housing authority.
This exemption, which would have effectively barred most housing
authority employees from renting property to subsidy recipients,
was not enacted by the Legislature. In 1987, the s. 20(h) exemption
in its present form was passed by the Legislature and became part
of the conflict of interest law. The present exemption appears to
expand the availability of the exemption because only those housing
authority employees who have "responsibility for the
administration" of the subsidy program are now restricted from
receiving subsidized

Page 449

rental payments. We therefore find our interpretation justified in
light of the fact that the exemption as finally approved by the
Legislature seems to reflect an intention to limit applicability of
the exemption only in relatively narrow circumstances.

In summary, we find that as an inspector for the Authority,
you will qualify for the exemption provided by s. 20(h) and
therefore your receipt of rental income pursuant to the Authority's
leased housing program will not violate s. 20.[4]


Section 23


Under s. 23(b)(3) you are prohibited from acting in a manner
which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the
relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can unduly
enjoy your favor in the performance of your official duties.
However, this so-called appearance of a conflict of interest may be
overcome if you make a public written disclosure of the
circumstances leading to the appearance. An appearance of a
conflict of interest will result from the fact that you work within
the leased housing program in addition to owning property which was
part of that program (and for which you will receive subsidized
rental payments). You must therefore file with your appointing
authority a written disclosure of your ownership of the property in
order to dispel any appearance of a conflict of interest.

---------------


[1] As a leased housing inspector, your role in the subsidy
program is limited to conducting on-site inspections (for code
violations) of rental units. Your inspection reports are submitted
to a supervisor. Furthermore, your inspection position in no way
involves you in the financial structure or management of the
subsidy program. For example, you inform us that you have no
knowledge of the fair market rental values of the apartments which
you inspect.

[2] Your daughter has informed w that your rental property
will no longer be part of the Authority's program. This opinion is
nevertheless relevant to your ability to collect subsidy payments
for the period during which your property was a part of the leased
housing program. In other words, the subsidy payments in question
arise from tenants who leased your property and were eligible for
a subsidy pursuant to the Authority's leased housing program.

[3] "Municipal employee," a person performing services for or
holding an office, position, employment or membership in a
municipal agency, whether by election, appointment, contract
of hire or engagement, whether serving with or without compensation,
on a full, regular, part-time, intermittent, or consultant basis,
but excluding (1) elected members of a town meeting and (2) members
of a charter commission established under Article LXXXIX of the
Amendments to the Constitution. G.L. c. 268A, s. 1(g).

[4] If your property were to remain in the Authority's subsidy
program, s. 19 would prohibit you from participating as an
inspector with regard to your property. Additionally, you could not
be involved in directing others nor could you participate in your
official capacity in any dispute before the Authority which
concerned your property. See In re Cellucci, 1988 SEC 346; aff'd.
Superior Court No. 88-3743 (Suffolk, March 10, 1992), appeal
docketed C.A. No. 92-P-887, June 29, 1992. Because you did not
participate in nor have dealings with the Authority concerning your
property and because your property will no longer be a part of the
Authority's leased housing program, an issue under s. 19 will not
be raised.

Page 450

 

End Of Decision