You are the chairman of the ABC Board of Health (Board). The Board develops and implements health policies for the Town. The Board has the statutory authority to promulgate regulations Concerning environmental health, including house drainage and sewer connections. G.L. c. 111, s.127. However, it is the Water and Sewer Department which approves and licenses water and sewer connections.
The Board also enforces provisions of the State Environmental Code regarding on-site subsurface disposal systems. G.L. c. 21A, s.13. The Board issues permits for the construction of septic systems and conducts site examinations for deep hole and percolation tests. 310 CMR s.15.02(1) and 315.03 (1). In practice, it is the Health Agent who actually performs the inspections and issues the permits.
You install septic systems and make water and sewer service connections. The permits for this work may be applied for by you, the general contractor or engineer on the job or the owner of the property. You, as the installer, are listed on the permit applications.
You also own a small, local restaurant. The Town Health Agent, who performs inspections of and issues permits for all food establishments, similarly licenses your restaurant
1. While you serve as a member of the Board, may you also be the owner of a local restaurant?
2. While you serve as a member of the Board, may you also install local septic systems?
3. While you serve as a member of the Board, may you also connect local water and sewer service lines?
1. Yes, subject to the limitations discussed below.
3. Yes, provided that you are designated as a "special municipal employee."
In your capacity as a Board member, you are a municipal employee for purposes of the conflict of interest law. G.L. c. 268A, s.1(g). Consequently, you are subject to the provisions of the law.
1. Restaurant Ownership
(a) Section 19
In your capacity as a Board member, you are prohibited from participating in any decision, determination or other particular matter in which you have a financial interest G.L. c. 268A, s.19(a). The financial
interest must be direct or reasonably foreseeable, EC-COI-84-123. In light of the fact that you own a restaurant, it is reasonably foreseeable that a Board determination concerning your restaurant would affect your financial interest, Accordingly, you may not participate, as a Board member, on matters affecting your restaurant, For example, you obviously cannot participate as a Board member in a hearing to determine whether to suspend your own food service permit, See, EC-COI-86-13 (where the police chief may not act on matters affecting his wife's liquor establishment).
You also may not act on matters affecting your restaurant's business competitors.
Because the consequence of an investigation of an infraction by a competitor may be the suspension or termination of the competitor's license, the removal of a competitor would have a foreseeable financial impact on [your own establishment]. EC-COI-86-13 citing EC-COI-81-118; 82-95; 82-98.
The Board of Selectmen, your appointing authority, may grant you an exemption from s.19 by giving you written permission to participate in those matters in which you have a financial interest. G.L. c. 268A, s.19(b)(1). The Board of Selectmen's determination to grant such permission must be based on the conclusion that the financial interest at stake is not so substantial as to be deemed likely to affect the integrity of your services as a Board of Health member.
(b) Section 23
The conflict law also prohibits you from using your position on the Board to gain unwarranted privileges of substantial value which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals. G.L. c. 268A, s.23(b)(2). For example, as Chairman of the Board, you may not put implicit or explicit pressure on the Health Agent or other Board members to treat your restaurant differently from other food service establishments with respect to licenses, permits, inspections and the like. See, EC-COI-86-13.
(c) Section 17
In addition to the restrictions set forth above, you also you may not represent your restaurant (i.e., act as its agent ) in it dealings with the town. For example, you may not discuss matters such as licensure, inspections, potential health code infractions or their remedies with the Health Agent. See, EC-COI-83-17 (a public employee may not apply to his own Board on behalf of another for a permit for the removal of underwater archaeological resources); 80-53 (a public employee may not be the agent for a private party in applying for or renewing licenses to family day care homes). See also, EC-COI-87-17; 83-5, This issue becomes particularly sensitive if a representative of your restaurant must actually appear before a town agency. Pursuant to G.L. c. 268A, s.17(c), you may not make the appearance.
2. Installation of Septic Systems
As applied to your case, s.17 will prohibit your outside work installing septic systems. Section 17 generally prohibits a municipal employee from acting as the agent for or being paid by anyone (other than the town or a town agency) in relation to any decision, determination or other particular matter in which the town is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.
Where you operate your own business installing septic systems, and are the only installer on the job, the work you do is presumptively "in relation to" the septic permit Absent facts to overcome this presumption, you are prohibited from engaging in this privately paid work.
In a prior opinion, the Commission concluded that the application for a Board permit, the decision to grant the permit, decisions regarding the oversight of the operation... [pursuant to the permit] are all particular matters which are within [a Board member's] official responsibility. EC-COI-83-17.
Thus, the board member (and the only consultant on the job) was not permitted to receive compensation from the permit holder for work done pursuant to the permit. Id.
An application for a septic permit, the decision to issue the permit, the permit itself as well as the Health Agent's determination that a septic system installation has been done correctly, are all "particular matters" for purposes of the conflict of interest law. The Town is both party to these matters and has a direct and substantial interest in them in light of the town's extensive regulation in local health matters.
Your proposal to be privately paid for work done pursuant to a septic permit is presumptively "in relation to" the permit and may well be "in relation to" many of the other determinations made concerning the installation of a septic system. See, EC-COI-83-17 (where a state employee may not be privately paid to do work which is subject to the state's oversight and final approval); See also, EC-COI-83-155 (where being paid by a private party to fulfill licensure requirements is "in connection with" a particular matter); EC-COI-81-140 (where an action taken to satisfy the initial and ongoing conditions for nursing home licensure is "in connection with" the determination to approve the license).
Furthermore, the Commission has consistently held that a public employee may not appear on behalf of a private party in dealing with a public agency. See, EC-COI-84-22 (where one who does plumbing work for a private party and meets with the plumbing examiner
concerning the work is considered acting as an agent in connection with a particular matter); 87-3 (where a state employee may not act as a private party's agent in dealing with other state employees (concerning the oversight of a private development project); 87-4 (where a public employee may not meet with other public officials on behalf of another "to resolve problems which have arisen in the [course off implement[ing]... [the private project]...").
Thus, as a septic system installer, you would be prohibited from meeting with the Health Agent on behalf of the private party for whom the installation was done.
The conclusion that you may not be paid by or act as the agent for a private party concerning septic installations is consistent with the policy considerations of s.17. Section 17 is intended to prevent the divided loyalties an individual may feel if he both is in a public position which regulates a particular industry and is also paid by a private party to engage in that regulated work. See, EC-COI-87-13 (where a public employee may not be privately paid in connection with any matter within his official responsibility).
3. Connection of Water and Sewer Hookup
(a) Section 17
Although septic installations are approved by the Board or its Agent, water and sewer service connections are approved by the Town's Water and Sewer Department. Because approvals for water and sewer service connections are granted by a town agency other than the one where you hold a public position, you may be privately compensated to do this work provided that you are designated as a "special municipal employee." You would qualify for this designation upon an affirmative vote of the Board of Selectmen. See, supra, footnote 6 at page 4.