Opinion  EC-COI-83-11

Date: 01/11/1983
Organization: State Ethics Commission

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.

Table of Contents


You are a member of the school committee of Town A in a region of the state. Each town in the region has a local school committee which oversees the operation of the elementary schools in the respective towns. These local committees also appoint from their ranks representatives to the Regional High School Committee (RHSC), a body which operates the regional high school in the region. You are the Town A representative to the RHSC.

All teachers, high school and elementary, are covered by the same collective bargaining contract. Representatives from high school teachers and the elementary school teachers negotiate jointly with representatives of each of the local school committees and the RHSC. Your wife is a teacher in the Town B elementary school and is covered by this collective bargaining contract.

Recently, a regional high school teacher applied to the RHSC, pursuant to the contract, for a sabbatical. Under the contract, each town school committee and the RHSC is authorized to grant or deny such a sabbatical independently.


1. How does the conflict of interest law apply to you in your dual roles in light of your wife's employment as a teacher in one of the towns and the collective bargaining agreement common among the RHS teachers and the elementary school teachers in the towns?

2. Can you participate, as an RHSC member, in the consideration of the sabbatical leave request of a regional high school teacher?


1. You may not participate in either capacity in any particular matters in which your wife would have a financial interest.

2. Yes.


As a Town A school committee member, you are a municipal employee as defined in the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, § 1(g), and, as a result, are subject to that law. Section 19 prohibits you from participating as a Town A school committee member in any particular matter[1] in which any member of your immediate family has a financial interest. Although your wife is employed as a teacher in a town other than Town A and not under the day-to-day authority of Town A's school committee or the RHSC, the contract negotiations unite these two committees and the Town B school committee. Therefore, § 19 would prohibit you from participating in these negotiations on behalf of the Town A school committee because these negotiations would be related to the contract which is a particular matter in which your wife has a financial interest. Similarly, using the example you presented, if the matter of your wife's sabbatical leave were to come before you, you would also be prohibited from participating.[2] See, Graham v. McGrail, 370 Mass. 133 (1976).

Section 19, however, only prohibits your participation where your wife has a financial interest. Therefore, even though your wife may be covered by contract terms resulting from the same negotiations and identical to those which apply to a teacher in either town seeking sabbatical leave, the independence of each local committee precludes your wife from having a financial interest in the decision on whether to grant such a leave to a teacher in another town.

The law applies similarly to you as a member of the RHSC. In advisory opinion EC-COI-82-25 (enclosed), the Commission declared that a regional school district (RSD) is an "independent municipal agency" rather than a subdivision or instrumentality of any or all of the member towns. This conclusion was based on the autonomy of operation of RSD's and the fact that their function is to provide a service normally provided by cities and towns. As a result, RSD committee members and employees are still subject to the provisions of the conflict law applicable to "municipal employees." Therefore, § 19 also applies to you as an RHSC member in connection with matters in which your wife would have a financial interest. However, based on the facts you present, it is unlikely that any matter coming before you as an RHSC member, other than contract negotiations, would fall into this category. You should be aware that the § 19 restriction applies not only to the negotiations themselves, but also to any planning or strategy discussions or decisions regarding those negotiations of either the Town A school committee or the RHSC. 

Should any matter arise in the future concerning which you have a question whether your wife has a financial interest, you should seek guidance from the Town A Town Counsel or this Commission.

End Of Decision 

[1] For the purposes of G. L. c. 268A, "particular matter" is defined as any judicial or other proceeding, application, submission, request for a ruling or other determination, contract, claim, controversy, charge, accusation, arrest, decision, determination, finding, but excluding enactment of general legislation by the general court. G.L. c. 268A, §1(k).

[2] Section 19 provides the opportunity for exemption from its application upon approval of a municipal employee's appointing official. However, as an elected official, you are unable to avail yourself of this exemption. See, District Attorney for the Hampden District v. Grucci, 1981 Mass. Adv. Sh. 2125, 2128 n. 3. And, although not required by §19. it would be desirable for you to place on the public record the reasons for your abstention whenever § 19 would prohibit your participation.

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