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Town and City Clerks 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 Clerk. The law is broadly written to prevent situations which may even give the appearance of a conflict.
If you have been designated as a "special" municipal employee, 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.)
Town and City Clerks must keep on file lists of all positions designated as special municipal employee positions.
You have just finished running an election. A local candidate, simply to show his gratitude for a job well done, offers you a gift certificate to a fine restaurant in Boston. May you accept?
If the dinner is valued at less than $50 you may accept the gift provided that it is not intended as a bribe. (A bribe, no matter what its value, will violate the law.)
The conflict of interest law permits local boards and departments to adopt stricter standards than those in the state law. Many local governments simply have an outright ban on accepting any gifts to avoid any appearance of conflict or favoritism which may arise by accepting gifts.
You have a part-time position open in your office. May you hire your daughter?
You also may not act in your capacity as Clerk on a matter that affects your own financial interest or the financial interest of a business for which you serve as employee, officer, director, partner or trustee.
There is an exemption to this restriction available for appointed Clerks. If you are appointed, you may act on a matter affecting your own, your immediate family's or your business' financial interest only if you receive written permission from your appointing authority (whatever board or person appointed you) prior to taking any action. This means that, if you receive permission first, you may hire your daughter.
Your cousin has applied for a job in your office. May you hire your cousin?
The public disclosure will dispel, by law, the impression of favoritism created when you act on matters affecting relatives (who are outside the definition of "immediate family") or friends. In addition, you must act objectively and not attempt to obtain any special favors for your cousin because of your relationship. Using your position to secure unwarranted privileges for people always violates the law, regardless of whether you disclosed your private relationship. Therefore, if you hired an unqualified person for a job because of some personal or political connection, you would violate the conflict law.
See, Commission Fact Sheet, "Avoiding Appearances of Conflicts of Interests" for more detailed information.
You want to serve as appointed paid Tax Collector in addition to Clerk. May you hold both positions?
You are the president of a local citizens group opposed to development in your community. May you represent the group before the Planning Board concerning a subdivision plan?
You have resigned as Clerk. You have gone into partnership with a local developer. May you represent your partnership before town or city boards?
You may not represent your company or a client concerning a particular matter in which you participated as Clerk. If, for example, you participated in counting the ballots in the last election, you may not now work for the "other side" in formally requesting a recount. If you didn't personally participate in counting the ballots but you had official responsibility for the count, you may not represent a client in opposing that count for one year after you leave your job.
This summary presents a brief overview of the conflict law and suggests activities which you, as a Town or City Clerk, 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 (617) 371-9500 for particular advice on the conflict law.
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 city or town, urge them to seek advice. 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 Fact Sheets 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 : September 1987