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Appearance of Conflict of Interest: Section 23(b)(3) of the conflict of interest law

Acting in a manner that would make a reasonable person think you can be improperly influenced is prohibited.

A public employee may not act in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to think that she would show favor toward someone or that she can be improperly influenced. Section 23(b)(3) of G.L. c. 268A requires a public employee to consider whether her relationships and affiliations could prevent her from acting fairly and objectively when she performs her duties for a city or town.  If she cannot be fair and objective because of a relationship or affiliation, she should not perform her duties.  However, a public employee, whether elected or appointed, can avoid violating this provision by making a public disclosure of the facts. An appointed employee must make the disclosure in writing to his appointing official.

Example where there is no violation : A state agency employee is engaged to be married to the owner of a business. The business owner submits a response to a request for proposals from the agency. A reasonable person could conclude that the employee might favor her fiance's response. The employee files a written disclosure with her appointing authority explaining her relationship with her fiance prior to the meeting at which responses to the RFP will be considered. There is no violation of Section 23(b)(3).

Example where there is no violation : The State House of Representatives is considering legislation which will create a general law that sets a maximum limit on insurance premiums paid by obstetricians. A State Representative is married to an obstetrician who will be affected by the proposed legislation. The Representative can participate in the matter but files a disclosure of his wife's interest to eliminate any appearance of a conflict. There is no violation.

Example where there is no violation : A developer who is the cousin of the chair of the conservation commission has filed an application with the commission. A reasonable person could conclude that the chair might favor her cousin. The chair files a written disclosure with her appointing authority explaining her relationship with her cousin prior to the meeting at which the application will be considered. There is no violation of Sec. 23(b)(3).

Example where there is no violation : A county agency employee is engaged to be married to the owner of a business. The business owner submits a response to a request for proposals from the agency. A reasonable person could conclude that the employee might favor her fiance's response. The employee files a written disclosure with her appointing authority explaining her relationship with her fiance prior to the meeting at which responses to the RFP will be considered. There is no violation of Sec. 23(b)(3).

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