Follow the Massachusetts Conflict-of-Interest Law
As a public board member, you likely are subject to the state’s conflict-of-interest law, which is designed to ensure that all public employees act for the benefit of the public organization, free from personal bias or gain.
The law impacts your conduct as a board member, as well as certain activities you undertake separate from your board membership. For instance, the law:
- Restricts you from discussing or voting on matters in which you or an immediate family member, or your private business, has a financial interest.
- Restricts you from accepting gifts and gratuities, if given because of some official act or because of an official position, even if the gift or gratuity would not influence your actions as a board member.
- Requires you to disclose in writing any appearances of conflict of interest prior to performing your official duties, and prohibits favoritism toward a family member or friend or bias against a business associate.
- Restricts you from representing business or other interests before your board.
You must acknowledge receipt of the conflict-of-interest summary annually and complete the online training program every two years. If you have not taken the training, contact the Ethics Commission or the individual or office that appointed you.
The law also requires you to:
- Complete training on the conflict-of-interest law. You have to acknowledge receiving a summary of the conflict-of-interest law every year and complete the Ethics Commission's free, online training program within 30 days after your appointment.
- File disclosures in certain instances involving actual and potential conflicts of interests.
Disclose Conflicts of Interest
Keep the conflict-of-interest law especially in mind when your board deliberates or votes on an issue. Your vote matters. It is an official act and your decisions or deliberations must be independent and free from personal bias, personal gain and personal advantage. When you believe there may be a conflict between your official duties and your personal interest, at a minimum you must disclose that conflict.
Disclosure forms and instructions are available on the Ethics Commission's website. It also offers helpful advisories, guides and rulings. The Ethics Commission provides free advice to all public employees on the conflict-of-interest laws.
You must abstain or recuse yourself from a matter under consideration by your public board if certain financial interests are affected. If a matter before your board creates an appearance of a conflict for you, you must first disclose the nature of the conflict in writing before participating in deliberations and voting on the matter.
You may want to consider circulating an annual "outside activities" form as part of an internal control plan related to possible conflicts of interest. It may prompt disclosure before a conflict arises.
At a minimum, disclosure creates transparency and helps ensure accountability, impartiality and independence. It enhances the public’s confidence in the integrity and fairness of our government and its processes. It helps ensure the delivery of honest services unencumbered by personal interest or gain.
- Does your board have a written policy about abstention or recusal?
- Are you permitted to work on outside activities that may impact your role as a board member? If so, how are outside activity requests approved?
Address Others' Conflicts of Interest within Your Public Organization
To help your board and your public organization comply with the conflict-of-interest law, ask:
- Have all board members completed the conflict-of-interest law's educational requirements?
- Does your board or the public organization understand how to complete and submit conflict-of-interest law disclosure forms? If so, where are they retained?
- Does your board require the executive to file disclosure forms or outside activity forms? If so, are the forms reviewed? Is there an approval process required? Are these activities monitored for potential conflicts?
Remember that the conflict-of-interest law applies to your fellow board members, employees of the public organization and, in certain instances, to consultants and contractors.
If you learn of a potential conflict of interest – whether by a board member, senior executive or employee – you need to properly address it. Seek advice from your board’s legal counsel or contact the Ethics Commission.
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