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School Committee members 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 of interest law is to ensure that your private financial interests and relationships do not conflict with your responsibilities on the School Committee. The law is written broadly to cover situations which even give the appearance of a conflict.
If your School Committee position has been designated as a "special" municipal employee position, 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.) Most School Committee member positions are eligible for designation as specials; see the Commission's Explanation of the Law for Special Municipal Employees for information on eligibility and the designation process.
CONFLICT QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Accepting Gifts (Section 3 and Section 23(b)(2)(i))
A text book vendor has recently received the school committee's approval for a contract with the school department. To foster goodwill and say thank you, the vendor offers each of the committee members a gift certificate to a fine restaurant in Boston. May you accept?
The conflict law permits local boards and committees to adopt stricter standards than those in the state law. Many local governments have an outright ban on accepting any gifts to avoid any appearance of conflict or favoritism which may be created by accepting gifts.
Prohibited Actions Affecting Financial Interests (Section 19)
You are a school committee member, and also work for a sports equipment store that has bid on a contract to supply athletic equipment to the schools. May you participate in the school committee decision on the contract?
Immediate family is defined in the law as you and your spouse, and either of your children, parents, brothers and sisters. For example, if your sister is a part owner of the sports equipment store in question, you must abstain when the issue comes before your board. Your sister, as a part owner of the store, has a financial interest in the matter.
There is an exemption available for appointed school committee members:
Another exemption allows you to participate as a school committee member in a matter involving a general school fee that will affect your child, or a child whose parent is one of your immediate family members. A general school fee does not include one that applies only to a single event or to the children of a single family. To comply with this exemption, you must file a written disclosure about the financial interest before acting in the matter. See 930 CMR 6.09.
Appearances of Conflict and Misuse of Official Position (Section 23)
Your cousin, a lawyer, is representing a client before your school committee. May you act as a school committee member in the matter?
In addition, you must act objectively and not attempt to obtain any special favors for your cousin because of your relationship. Using your school committee position to secure unwarranted privileges for people always violates the law, regardless of whether you have disclosed your private relationship. See Advisory 05-01 – The Standards of Conduct for more detailed information.
Restrictions "After Hours" (Section 17)
Outside of your school committee position, you are a professional engineer working for a development company. May you represent the development company before the conservation commission concerning a development located in wetlands?
You have a child attending school in the district. You would like the school department to provide your child with a special assistant in the classroom. May you talk to school department employees about getting an assistant to help your child while you are on the school committee?
Yes. An exemption to this section of the conflict law permits you to advocate for your child, which means that you can act on behalf of your child in your private capacity as a parent, provided that you follow established procedures, do not seek special consideration for your child because you are on the school committee and you make a disclosure. You may omit identifying information in your disclosure to the extent necessary to protect your child’s legal rights to privacy as a student. However, you may not discuss financial matters related to your child with your subordinates in the absence of other people who would ordinarily participate in accordance with an established decision-making process. See 930 CMR 6.03.
Example: A school committee member whose child attends school in the district participates in a mediation process sponsored by the state Bureau of Special Education Appeals to resolve issues about who will pay for services for the child. Some of the participants in the mediation are the committee member’s subordinates in the school district. The school committee member makes a disclosure of her participation in the process. This complies with the exemption.
Example of What is Not Permitted: A school committee member meets privately with his subordinate, the superintendent of schools, to arrive at financial terms relating to payment for services for the committee member’s child. Ordinarily, other school department members, including the Director of Special Education Services, would participate in such discussions. The committee member makes no disclosure of the meetings. This does not comply with the exemption.
Prohibited Financial Interest in Municipal Contracts & Multiple Jobs (Section 20)
A teacher in one of your local schools has written and published a textbook. The school committee has expressed an interest in purchasing the book for the school department. May the teacher receive royalties from the sale of the book?
The conflict law generally prohibits municipal employees from having a financial interest in any contract (other than their employment contract) with their municipality. However, the Commission has previously held that the multiple contract restrictions do not apply when an employee's additional services and compensation are included as part of the employee's primary employment contract. Many teachers' collective bargaining agreements include statements regarding teacher participation in extra-curricular activities; thus, if the municipality's contract with the teachers specifically authorizes participation in extra-curricular activities in return for additional compensation, and preparation of educational materials is included within that authorization, the teacher may accept the royalties from the purchase without violating the conflict law.
You want to serve as an elected planning board member. If elected, may you hold positions on both the planning board and school committee?
Talk to your school committee counsel about the technical requirements you must meet to hold multiple positions or receive additional compensation, or call the Ethics Commission at (617) 371-9500.
Restrictions After You Leave Government Service (Section 18)
You have resigned as a member of the school committee and now work for a developer who has a project pending before the municipality. May you represent the developer before various municipal boards and agencies?
This summary is a brief overview of the conflict of interest law and suggests activities which you, as a school committee member, must avoid. It is not a comprehensive review intended to cover every situation. You should consult with school committee counsel or call the Ethics Commission's Legal Division at (617) 371-9500 for advice about how the law applies to your situation.
If you have a question about your own activities, we urge you to request advice prior to engaging in the activity in question.
If you have questions about others' activities in your area, urge them to use the advisory opinion process. In addition, complaints may be filed with the Commission's Enforcement Division online by using the website, by phone (at the same number listed above), by letter or in person. The identity of complainants is kept confidential.
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Explanations about the conflict of interest law are prepared and issued by the Public Education and Communications 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: October 1988