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  • State Ethics Commission

Municipal Employee (G.L. c. 268A, § 19) Legal Opinions

Formal legal opinions by the State Ethics Commission about municipal employees participating in matters in which they, their family members, or a business organization they are affiliated with has a financial interest
  • EC-COI-83-11

    A member of a town school committee who is the committee's designated member on the regional high school committee is advised that § 19 of the conflict of interest law prohibits him from participating in matters, either as a town school committee member or the regional high school committee member, affecting the financial interests of his wife, a teacher in another town, where the teacher collective bargaining contract applies to elementary and high school teachers.

  • EC-COI-83-153

    A Building Commissioner in a Town who jointly owns various vacant lots in the Town with his spouse may be involved in the construction and sale of buildings on the lots in the Town as long as he complies with §§ 17 and 19 of the conflict of interest law.

  • EC-COI-84-78

    How the conflict of interest law applies generally to an assistant town counsel's private practice of law.

  • EC-COI-84-92

    An elected member of a municipal commission is subject to §§ 19 and 23 of the conflict of interest law if the municipal department overseen by the municipal commission hires the member’s son to a seasonal job in the department.

  • EC-COI-84-96

    A planning board member may not participate as a board member on a special permit where the board member owns land which abuts the proposed development.

  • EC-COI-84-98

    Sections 19 and 23 of the conflict of interest law restrict whether school committee members can participate in matters if immediate family members are employed as teachers in the school department.

  • EC-COI-84-125

    A city councilor is advised that §§ 19, 20 and 23(c) of the conflict of interest law do not prohibit him from being appointed to an unpaid reserve officer position with the police department but may impose restrictions if funding for reserve police officers is approved.

  • EC-COI-85-59

    Two members of a city's sports facility commission were advised that they could not participate in negotiations to lease the facility to a private management company where the two members were involved in a management group which was a potential lessee. Further the members were advised that they could not act as the group's agent or otherwise appear on the group’s behalf before any city body in connection with the proposal. The commission restated the rule that "acting as agent includes not only personal participation in negotiations but also making any sort of contact on behalf of the outside entity with the city."

  • EC-COI-85-77

    An individual who serves for two hours per month on an unpaid basis for a municipal community development corporation business committee is subject to G.L. c. 268A as a "municipal employee" because he provides services to a municipal agency. In view of his unpaid status, his position qualifies for designation by the city council as a "special municipal employee" and makes him eligible for several exemptions under the conflict of interest law. He is not required to file an annual statement of financial interests because G.L. c. 268B does not cover municipal employees.

  • EC-COI-86-13

    A police chief would violate §19 of the conflict of interest law by participating in liquor license matters affecting a liquor establishment that is 50% owned by his spouse unless he first obtains a §19(b)(1) exemption from his appointing authority.

  • EC-COI-86-19

    A city councilor may participate in an order authorizing the mayor to file a home rule petition with the General Court that would require drug testing of public safety personnel provided that he first publicly disclose that the petition could affect his police officer brother.
  • EC-COI-86-25

    A city councilor who is privately employed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association may not participate as a city councilor in filling a school committee vacancy.
  • EC-COI-87-1

    A selectman who is an officer of an organization which operates a private club may participate in the liquor license application of a restaurant which does not compete with the club.

  • EC-COI-87-9

    A member of the city council may initiate a lawsuit against the council in connection with a prior council's termination of his employment with the city.

  • EC-COI-87-10

    A municipal treasurer who has been named as an unpaid corporator of a savings bank is prohibited by section 19 from official participating in matters affecting the board's financial interests, and from acting as the ban's agent in connection with matters in which the municipality is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.

  • EC-COI-87-16

    A City Councilor who is either a potential candidate for mayor or who has an immediate family member who is a mayoral candidate may vote on the proposed pay increase for the mayor's position which would take effect after the election.

  • EC-COI-87-18

    An attorney may serve as special municipal counsel representing a board of health in a state lawsuit.

  • EC-COI-87-21

    A selectman whose son is a patrolman in the police department may not approve collective bargaining agreements which include salary increases for patrolmen.

  • EC-COI-87-25

    A City Councilor whose sister is an employee of the school department may vote on the total appropriation for the school budget but must abstain from participating in any recommendations on a budget line item which funds the collective bargaining agreement between the school department and teachers union.

  • EC-COI-87-31

    A municipal board of health member who owns a local restaurant may not participate officially on matters which concern either the restaurant, the restaurant's competitors, or the member's financial interest. Section 17 also prohibits the board member from installing septic systems locally as this work is presumptively in relation to the septic permit, a matter in which the town has a direct and substantial interest. (legislation passed in 1988 to allow this in certain cases)

  • EC-COI-87-32

    A municipal employee whose responsibility is limited to the ministerial act of signing a treasury warrant authorizing payment of compensation to employees does not personally and substantially participate in the warrant as long as the hours are certified by other individuals and the certification does not become the subject of a dispute. But see EC-COI-98-5 reversing this opinion.

  • EC-COI-87-33

    A selectman, whose son is a police patrolman, may not participate in the creation of a new position or in the promotion of the son's supervisors, since the son has a financial interest in these matters.

  • EC-COI-88-4

    A non-profit organization which sells certain products to municipalities is a business organization for the purposes of 268A. Accordingly, a selectman who serves as a member of a board of directors of a non-profit organization must abstain from official participation in matters in which the organization has a financial interest.

  • EC-COI-88-16

    Members of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Commission are considered municipal employees of the City of North Adams because the Commission is an agency of the City. A MOCA Commission member is thus subject to sections 17, 19, and 23 with respect to his private positions as adjunct professor at Williams College and as Director of the Guggenheim Foundation.

  • EC-COI-88-21

    A state employee who is an attorney and also services as a city conservation commissioner is subject to several provisions of 268A. Section 4 allows the state employee to hold a municipal position provided that he does not vote or act on any matter within the purview of his state agency or over which he has official responsibility. As a municipal employee under section 17 he may not represent private clients: (1) before other municipal agencies or (2) on appeals of municipal decisions to state agencies. Section 19 prohibits him from participating as a commissioner in any matter which could directly or indirectly affect the financial interest of his law firm. Once he leaves his state job, he would be subject os sections 5 and 23 as a former state employee. His law firm would not be subject to section 18(d/c) and section 5(d/c) since he would be an associate attorney in the firm.

  • EC-COI-89-2

    A municipal employee may also serve as an elected member of an independent water district within the town, subject to certain conditions.  NOTE: This opinion is no longer valid.  Please contact the Commission's Legal Division for updated advice.

  • EC-COI-89-13

    A member of a municipal authority may retain her investment as well as a limited partner status is a project that is pending before her municipal authority, provided that her investment is lass than 1% of the entire project and she abides by the rules of sections 19 and 20.

  • EC-COI-89-19

    A municipal official may participate in a local zoning amendment decision where the municipal official's spouse does not have a reasonably foreseeable financial interest in the decision because it is unknown how the decision will affect the real estate of a corporation in which the spouse owns stock.

  • EC-COI-89-33

    A conservation commission member who resides near property whose owner has made a filing under the Wetlands Protection Act, may participate in the matter where: (1) the member is not a direct abutter; (2) the member is not a "party aggrieved"; (3) the member is not a "party in interest"; and (4) the fact do not indicate any other direct or reasonably foreseeable financial interests prohibited by section 19.

  • EC-COI-90-1

    A municipal tax collector whose mother is the assistant tax collector may not participate in any personnel matter, evaluation, promotion, step raise, salary determination or other term or condition of employment affecting her mother's financial interest.

  • EC-COI-90-2

    Member's of the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank are considered employees of an independent municipal agency for the purposes of G.L. c. 268A, and members of local advisory boards are municipal employees under G.L. c. 268A. The opinion addresses the limitations which G.L. c. 268A imposes on the official and private activities of these employees. NOTE: This opinion has been overturned in 92-40

  • EC-COI-90-14

    The superintendent of a regional school district who also owns a software company may donate to the district a software package, subject to certain restrictions. In particular, he may not officially participate in the matter as superintendent nor may he act as his company's agent in its dealings with the district.

  • EC-COI-91-8

    A town administrator could apply for and accept from town employees under his supervision a generally available federal housing rehabilitation grant for his personal residence. He was exempt from section 20 by virtue of subsection (e), and section 17 did not apply as he was acting on his own behalf. The town employees were required to disclose the relevant facts to avoid violating section 23(b)(3).

  • EC-COI-92-1

    A City Councilor may also be employed by a "community action agency," subject to the usual limitations on a regular municipal employee's outside employment, because a community action agency is not a "municipal agency" under G.L. c. 268A.

  • EC-COI-92-11

    The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head does not fall within the definition of a "business organization" for the purposes of G.L. c. 268A, section 19. Thus, members of the Tribe who are also municipal officials are not required to abstain in matters affecting the financial interests of the Tribe, but such municipal officials must comply with the safeguards in section 23.

  • EC-COI-92-21

    Section 19 prohibits a fire district prudential committee member from participating in any matter in which his son, a fire fighter in the district, has a direct and immediate or reasonably foreseeable financial interest. The committee member must refrain from participating in discussions or votes concerning the collective bargaining agreement for full-time fire fighters, as well as any other matter which will affect his son's financial interest, including but not limited to seniority rights, lay-offs, retirement, health benefits and disciplinary matters.

  • EC-COI-92-24

    Section 19 prohibits a member of a local Board of Health (the Board) from participating in a particular matter in which his own financial interests (as an abutter) will foreseeably be affected. Where other Board members are also prohibited from participating in the same matter because of conflicts of interest (such that a quorum cannot be obtained), the Rule of Necessity may be invoked. If it is properly invoked, all board members who have conflicts of interest may participate in the matter.

  • EC-COI-92-30

    A City Council may not elect one of its members as a City Clerk until thirty days after he resigns as a Councilor, because every multi-member municipal body, including this city council, is a "municipal commission or board" for section 21A purposes. While he remains a Councilor, sections 19 and 23(b)(2) prohibit him from participating in matters related to his city clerk candidacy and from using his position to further his candidacy.

  • EC-COI-92-33

    Section 19 prohibits a city solicitor from giving legal advice about a management salary cap that would probably apply to him, unless the mayor (his appointing authority) gives him an advance written determination that his financial interest will not likely interfere with the integrity of his services to the city, as allowed by section 19(b)(1).

  • EC-COI-92-34

    The section 19(b)(3) exemption allows a selectman whose immediate family owns a substantial commercial property to participate in the selectmen's decision to adopt a higher property tax rate on all commercial property in town, because the decision "involves a determination of general policy" and his family's ownership interest is shared with more than 10 percent of town residents, which constitutes a "substantial segment of the populations."

  • EC-COI-93-3

    The "rule of necessity" allows two municipal planning board members to participate in a particular matter in which they would otherwise be prohibited from participating by section 19(a). Generally, the members would be prohibited from taking any action in which a business organization, for which the officials are serving as trustees, has a financial interest; however, the "rule of necessity" may be invoked since, without the two members' participation, the planning board would be unable to take any action on the matter.

  • EC-COI-93-13

    The "Rule of Necessity" allows a selectman to vote on the issuance of a liquor pouring license, notwithstanding the Selectman's own financial interest. The rule was applicable because a vacancy on the Selectman's Board could not be filled in time for the Board to comply with a statutorily mandated time limit for acting on the matter. In a separate question, a Selectman whose partner is landlord to a liquor license applicant may act on the license application provided that the issuance or denial of the license would not have a reasonably foreseeable impact on the partner's financial interests.

  • EC-COI-93-17

    A Selectman who is also a teacher cannot re-negotiate a Town Manager's contract (where re-appointment or conditions upon which the Manager can continue employment are at issue), but he may participate in the mere evaluation of the Manager's performance (where re-appointment is not at issue).

  • EC-COI-93-19

    A full-time municipal employee may provide services to more than one municipal agency, when all duties to be performed are considered part of a single employment contract. If the employee is elected Selectman, she will (1) be required to obtain an exemption under section 20(d) if she wishes to receive compensation for her appointed position; and (2) be unable to participate in any matters relating to her employment as Assistant to the Selectmen's board. Further, if she is elected Selectman, her future re-appointment as Assistant must be approved by a vote of Town Meeting members, under the restrictions of section 21A.

  • EC-COI-93-20

    An appointed Town Sewer Commissioner, who also owns several undeveloped acres of land on which he is planning to build residential units, has a financial interest in potential new sewer regulations and therefore may not participate in adopting the new regulations unless he receives prior, written approval from his appointing authority. His interest is not shared by a substantial segment of the population.

  • EC-COI-93-21

    Members of school councils, established by the Education Reform Act of 1993, are considered "municipal employees." Elected members of school committees may also serve on school councils without violating sections 17(c), 19 or 20. Note that, in the instance where a school committee member is appointed rather than elected, the member would have to receive a section 20(b) or section 20(d) exemption in order to also serve as a member of a school council. Principals and teachers may serve as members of school councils without violating section 20.

  • EC-COI-94-5

    A mayor is advised that he/she may invoke the rule of necessity to designate an alternate to serve as the city's collective bargaining representative with an immediate family member's union.

  • EC-COI-94-7

    Non-profit corporations known as Home Care Corporations which contract with the Executive Office of Elder Affairs are not public instrumentalities for the purposes of the conflict of interest law. The Commission's conclusion is based on the application of its traditional four-part jurisdictional test; moreover, the Commission took into consideration, for the first time, whether the Commonwealth functioned as an "owner" of the entities, or whether the Corporations involved private interests.

  • EC-COI-95-4

    An elected municipal official, who also serves as a savings bank "corporator", is not required to abstain from official actions affecting the financial interests of the savings bank. G.L. c. 268A section 19 generally prohibits a municipal employee from taking any official action affecting the financial interests of an organization for which the municipal employee serves as a director or officer. However, the duties and powers of a bank "corporator" are not analogous to those of an officer or director, and therefore the general prohibition is not triggered.

  • EC-COI-95-10

    Using a four-factor jurisdictional test, the Commission finds that a Downtown Association, initially funded by an Executive Office of Communities and Development Downtown Partnership Program grant awarded to the city, is a private entity -- not a municipal agency -- for purposes of the conflict law. A member of the city's Historic Commission, who serves ex officio as a member of the Downtown Association's board, will be subject to the restrictions of G.L. c. 268A, sections 19 and 23 in the performance of her official duties. Also, her actions as a Downtown Association board member will be subject to the restrictions of G.L. c. 268A, section 17, unless the City Council determines that her municipal duties include representation of the Downtown Association.

  • EC-COI-96-2

    A member of a municipal board of assessors may conduct private appraisals of property in the town.

  • EC-COI-97-1

    A part-time intermittent police officer may work as a security guard in the same city where they serve as a police officer as long he is not on active police duty.

  • EC-COI-98-5

    An elected school committee member may not participate in approving payments to a non-profit school department vendor on whose board of directors the member sits.

  • EC-COI-99-4

    A selectman may not participate in approving the school department payroll warrant that includes the pay for an immediate family member. The Rule of Necessity would allow the selectman to participate in the school department payroll matter by following the proper procedures for invoking the rule if the board is statutorily required to act and cannot.

  • EC-COI-02-2

    Section 19 of G.L. 268A does not prohibit a member of a town board who is a director of a private organization from participating in a particular matter in which the private organization does not intend to expend any financial resources as a result of the board decision; in contrast, if, as a result of a board decision, the private organization will expend its financial resources to oppose the project approved by the board, then the private organization has a financial interest and the board member who is a director of the private organization may not participate.

  • EC-COI-07-2

    Based on the Commission's reconsideration of the meaning of the term business organization in G. L. c. 268A, sections 6, 13 and 19, neither the common and ordinary meaning of business organization nor the legislative history and intent of the statute require or support the inclusion of charitable, non-profit organizations that do not substantially engage in business activities within the scope of the term. Accordingly, the Commission will not treat charitable, non-profit organizations that do not substantially engage in business activities as business organizations for conflict of interest law purposes.

  • EC-COI-11-3

    A City Councilor may serve as a Library Trustee

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