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Section 20 of G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, generally prohibits a municipal employee (paid or unpaid, appointed or elected, full-time or part-time) from having a financial interest, directly or indirectly, in a contract made by an agency of the municipality in which he serves. However, the section also provides numerous exemptions from this prohibition.
There are three types of municipal employees who must qualify for an exemption.
First, any current municipal employee who wants to add another municipal position that is appointed and compensated must qualify for an exemption. Similarly, if the municipal employee wishes to have a financial interest in a municipal contract that does not involve another municipal position, she must also qualify for an exemption.
Second, if a prospective municipal employee already has a financial interest in a contract with his municipality, he must qualify for an exemption when he begins to serve as a municipal employee.
Third, if a current appointed and compensated municipal employee wants to add an unpaid municipal position or an elected municipal position (whether paid or unpaid), she will need to qualify for an exemption. However, unlike the first two types of municipal employees described above, she needs to qualify for an exemption that will allow her to continue to be paid in her current municipal position while also serving in her appointed/unpaid or elected position.
Section 20 does not prohibit anyone from holding a number of unpaid positions. Section 20 does not prohibit anyone from holding more than one popularly elected position, even if one or more of those elected positions is paid.
The Legislature created 'special municipal employee' status to allow municipalities to engage individuals who, otherwise, might not be able to serve because of their private activities in their municipalities or because they already are municipal, or special municipal, employees in another capacity in their municipality.
For all other positions, the city council, board of aldermen, town council or board of selectmen may classify municipal positions as special if:
Special municipal employee status narrows, but does not eliminate, the scope of the restrictions on a special municipal employee's conduct.
The Legislature recognized that the needs of different municipalities may differ. The following exemptions allow a great deal of local control in order to allow municipalities to meet their individual needs.
In addition, if the contract is for personal services, additional requirements must be met; a municipal employee seeking a contract for personal services should seek advice from the Ethics Commission
A special municipal employee may have a financial interest if she "does not participate in or have official responsibility for any of the activities of the contracting agency" and she files with the clerk of the city or town a disclosure of her interest and her immediate family's interest.
As the general prohibition and the § 20(b) exemption indicate, it is much more difficult for municipal employees to qualify for exemptions. However, there are specific exemptions for types of positions or financial interests that are available to both municipal and special municipal employees. These include:
There are also exemptions for municipal employees to retain their municipal jobs and to also serve as elected selectmen and town or city councilors. Similarly, there is an exemption for an employee of a housing authority who is elected to an office other than mayor.
Finally, § 20 does not prohibit an employee in a town having a population of less than three thousand five hundred persons from holding more than one appointed position with that town, provided that the board of selectmen approves the exemption of his interest from this section. This exemption does not allow an elected municipal official to be appointed to additional positions in which he would have a financial interest in a contract.
It's complicated! You can contact the Ethics Commission at 617-371-9500 for specific advice.