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Auditors and Accountants are municipal employees covered by the conflict of interest law (Chapter 268A of the General Laws). All municipal employees, whether elected or appointed, full or part-time, paid or unpaid must abide by the restrictions of the conflict law.
The purpose of the conflict law is to ensure that your private financial interests and relationships do not conflict with your responsibilities as auditor or accountant. The law is broadly written to prevent you from even becoming involved in a situation which could result in a conflict or give the appearance of a conflict.
If you are part-time and have been designated as a "special," two sections of the conflict law, sections 17 and 20, apply less restrictively to you. (All other sections of the conflict law which affect municipal employees apply to special municipal employees in the same way.) See the Commission's Fact Sheet, "Special Municipal Employees" for information on eligibility and the process of designation.
In the course of your work, you suggested that a contract be put out to bid again because the bidding procedure had not been adequately followed. The company which ultimately received the contract offered you a gift certificate to a fine restaurant simply to say "thanks." May you accept the certificate?
The conflict of interest law permits municipal agencies to adopt stricter standards than those in the state law. Many local governments simply have an outright ban on accepting any gifts to avoid the appearance of conflict or favoritism which may be created.
You are on the Board of Directors of a local company which has a contract with your town. May you, as Auditor, approve the contract as to the availability of funds to support the payment?
Immediate family is defined in the law as you and your spouse and both of your children, parents, brothers and sisters. For example, you are prohibited from hiring your sister or from participating in any way in the hiring process.
There is an exemption to this restriction, available for appointed Auditors and Accountants. If you are appointed, you may act on a matter affecting your own, your family's or your business' financial interest only if you receive written permission from your appointing authority prior to taking any action. Therefore, if the Board of Selectmen appointed you to your job, they could grant you permission to hire your sister.
If you are elected, this exemption is not available to you; you may never hire your sister.
NOTE: This section of the conflict law prohibits you from depositing municipal funds in any bank for which you work or serve as partner, officer, director or trustee. Though the conflict law would allow an appointed Treasurer to receive an exemption to this rule, M.G.L. c. 44, §55 prohibits you from depositing funds in any bank with which you are associated as an "officer" or employee or with which you were associated at any time during the three years immediately preceding the date of any such deposit.
You are a part-time Accountant; you also work part-time for a computer company. May you represent the company in its negotiations with the School Department to provide computers for a new school program?
See the Commission's Advisory No. 13 "Agency" for more information on this section of the conflict law.
The school department needs a custodian to clean the school auditorium after a play. May the school department hire the custodian who works for the DPW.
The conflict law generally prohibits municipal employees from having a financial interest in a "contract" with the town or city they work. Agreements to buy or sell goods and services and municipal employment constitutes a "contract", even if that employment is on a temporary basis. There are exemptions, however, to the restrictions against municipal employees contracting with their city or town.
In this situation, the custodian working for the DPW may be hired to clean the school auditorium only if the contract has been publicly advertised. In addition, other technical requirements must be met. This is the most complex section of the conflict law. Talk to your municipal lawyer or call the Ethics Commission at (617) 371-9500 if you are considering contracting with your municipality or taking a second town or city position.
One final restriction to note: it is virtually impossible for you to contract with your own agency or with an agency you have official responsibility for. Therefore, the custodian would not be allowed to work for the DPW in another capacity during the evening and receive a second paycheck from DPW for that work.
A local bank is the investment advisor for the city's retirement portfolio. You oversee the bank's purchases and sales consistent with the Retirement Board's financial strategy. The bank is about to foreclose on your brother's property. May you call the president of the bank and intervene on behalf of your brother?
Your cousin's company has submitted a bill to your town for services rendered. May you review the bill for accuracy and sign off on the payment to your cousin?
You have resigned as Auditor and now work for a bank which has a major portion of the city's business. May you represent the bank in its dealings with the new Auditor?
For example, as Auditor, you questioned a bill from a vendor. You may not now, as the vendor's liaison with the city, negotiate the resolution of the problem on that particular bill with the new Auditor.
This summary presents a brief overview of the conflict law and suggests activities which you, as a Treasurer or Collector, must avoid. It is not a comprehensive review intended to cover every situation. You should consult your municipal lawyer or call the Ethics Commission's Legal Division at 371-9500 for particular advice on the conflict law.
If you have a question about your own activities, we urge you to request an opinion from your city or town counsel or directly from the Commission prior to engaging in the activity in question.
If you have questions about others' activities in your county, urge them to use the opinion process. In addition, complaints may be filed with our Enforcement Division in person, by phone (at the same number listed above) or by letter. The identity of complainants is kept confidential.
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Commission Summaries are prepared and issued by the Public Education Division of the State Ethics Commission. They are intended to provide guidance to public officials and employees concerning practical applications of the conflict law.
ISSUED : August 1987