Attorney General: Honorable Thomas D. Ritter, House of Representatives, 1997-002 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal

January 28, 1997

Honorable Thomas D. Ritter
Speaker of the House
House of Representatives
State Capitol
Hartford, CT 06106-1591

Dear Representative Ritter:

We are replying to your letter of January 16, 1997 in which you ask a number of questions concerning the legality and propriety of Mr. John B. Meskill's January 15, 1997 resignation as executive director of the Division of Special Revenue (the "Division") to become the executive director of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Gaming Commission (the "Tribal Commission"). In particular, you would like to know (1) whether the specific revolving door limitation contained in General Statutes  12-557d(c) applies to Mr. Meskill and includes the Tribal Commission; (2) whether Mr. Meskill violated any provision of the General Statutes by negotiating with the Tribe while still employed by the State; and (3) whether Mr. Meskill or the Tribe violated Section 53a-147 of the criminal code or Section 1-84(f) of the ethics code.

We conclude that Mr. Meskill's action was not prohibited by the language of the Gaming Policy Board's revolving door statute, Section 12-557d(c). Although such post-state employment is not currently prohibited, I recommend that the General Assembly amend the law to prevent a reoccurrence of this situation and other similar actions that could be taken by the members of the Gaming Policy Board or the executive director of the Division of Special Revenue. Such an improvement in the law would serve the spirit and the purposes of the revolving door measure and would preserve and enhance public confidence in the State's gaming regulatory process.

By way of background, it is our understanding that Mr. Meskill served as the executive director of the Division from July 12, 1993 to January 15, 1997, the date of his resignation. As the executive director of the Division, he served on the State's Gaming Policy Board ex officio without voting rights. General Statutes  12-557d(a). Prior to July 1993, Mr. Meskill served as the Division's deputy executive director and chief of its planning and research unit.

Sometime in December 1996, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe (the "Tribe") asked Mr. Meskill whether he was interested in becoming the executive director of the Tribal Commission. On January 3, 1997, Mr. Meskill requested an informal advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission as to whether Section 1-84b(c)(2) of the ethics code, which places certain limitations on public officials and state employees when they leave state service and is often referred to as the "revolving door" statute, prohibited him from accepting the position with the Tribe.1

The Ethics Commission responded to Mr. Meskill in an informal opinion on January 13, 1997. Relying on a 1991 formal opinion of the Ethics Commission, that involved a similar situation,2 an Ethics Commission staff attorney determined that Section 1-84b(c)(2) did not apply to this situation because the Tribal Commission is a government entity of the Tribe, not a "business" as contemplated by the ethics code to which the revolving door restriction applies.

You have asked us to examine several additional questions, which were not considered by the Ethics Commission, to determine whether the Tribe's or Mr. Meskill's actions in negotiating, offering or accepting the offer of employment violated any other provisions of the law.

1. Did Mr. Meskill violate General Statutes  12-557d(c)?

Connecticut General Statutes  12-557d established the Gaming Policy Board (the "Board"). The executive director of the Division "serve[s] on the board ex officio without voting rights." General Statutes 12-557d(a). General Statutes  12-557d(c) restricts subsequent employment of Board members and provides:

No board member shall accept any form of employment by a business organization regulated under this chapter for a period of two years following the termination of his service as a board member. (Emphasis added.)

General Statutes  12-557b in turn defines "business organization" as:

a partnership, incorporated or unincorporated association, firm, corporation, trust or other form of business or legal entity, other than a financial institution regulated by a state or federal agency which is not exercising control over an association licensee;

Thus, the issues here are whether (1) the Tribal Commission is a "business organization" regulated under Chapter 226 of the General Statutes; and (2) the revolving door limitation of Section 12-557d(c) applies to the Division's executive director, who serves on the Board ex officio with no voting rights. Because, as discussed below, we conclude that the Tribal Commission is not a "business organization" regulated by the Division, and therefore not an entity subject to the revolving door restriction, it is not necessary for us to, and we do not, decide whether Mr. Meskill's status as an ex officio member of the Board is equivalent to being a "board member" within the meaning of Section 12-557d(c).

The Tribal Commission is the Tribe's gaming agency and was established in accordance with the Federal Procedures, more commonly referred to as the Gaming Compact, which governs the Tribe's gaming activities and other matters on the Reservation. According to the Gaming Compact, the Tribal Commission is the tribal agency responsible for regulatory oversight of the Tribe's gaming operations. In other words, the Tribal Commission is the governmental agency of the Tribe, as the Division is for the State, responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Gaming Compact and other gaming laws of the Tribe. The Tribal Commission established by tribal ordinance does not conduct or manage the Tribe's gaming operations.3

As a tribal governmental regulatory entity, the Tribal Commission clearly is not a "partnership, incorporated or unincorporated association, firm, corporation, trust . . . ." The only question therefore is whether it is an "other form of business or legal entity . . . ."

In construing statutes, general terms should be "construed to embrace things of the same general kind or character as the more specific terms enumerated in the statute." Prudential Property & Casualty Ins. Co. Bannon, 233 Conn. 243, 248 (1995); State v. Russell, 218 Conn. 273, 278 (1991). All of the specific terms enumerated in the definition refer to business entities. Accordingly, the general phrase, "other . . . legal entity" must be interpreted to encompass other "business-type" entities. Because the Tribal Commission is a governmental regulatory entity, not a business entity, it does not fall within this definition of "business organization," and accordingly, Section 12-557d(c) does not apply to restrict Mr. Meskill from accepting a position with the Tribal Commission.4

2. Did Mr. Meskill violate the law by negotiating for a job with the Tribe while still employed by the State?

You ask whether, by negotiating with the Tribe for employment while he was employed by the State, Mr. Meskill violated any provision of the law, and whether during that time he had any obligation to recuse himself from participating in matters involving the Tribe or to report the pendency of the Tribe's offer to the Board. Essentially, we understand your concern to be that the pending offer and negotiations created a conflict of interest for Mr. Meskill.

We understand that on December 20, 1996, after being contacted by the Tribe, Mr. Meskill formally recused himself from participating in any matters involving the Tribe, and from that date until his resignation, he did not, in fact, participate in any matters involving the Tribe. (See copy of December 20, 1996 written memorandum from John Meskill to George F. Wandrak, deputy executive director of the Division attached). Also the Board was not scheduled to meet, and did not meet, while the offer was pending. The first regularly scheduled meeting of the Board during that time was January 15, 1997, the date of Mr. Meskill's resignation.

We are not aware of any provisions of the General Statutes other than the ethics code that govern the conduct of public officials and state employees, particularly on the question of conflicts of interest. See General Statutes  1-84. Whether Mr. Meskill's conduct violated any provision of the ethics code or whether he should have done more than recuse himself while the offer was pending should be determined by the Ethics Commission, the agency charged with its enforcement.

3. Did the Tribe or Mr. Meskill violate General Statutes  1-84(f) or 53a-147?

You also ask whether the "process of negotiation, the offering of a job to [Mr. Meskill] by the Tribe, the acceptance of a job by [Mr. Meskill] or any combination of these events" violated Section 1-84(f) of the ethics code or Section 53a-147 of the penal code. As we stated above, the Ethics Commission concluded in this case and in the nearly identical 1991 case involving former executive director William Hickey that the acceptance of a position with the Tribal Gaming Commission by the executive director of the Division did not violate the Ethics Code. Further questions concerning the applicability of the ethics code should be directed to the Ethics Commission. Similarly, questions regarding any possible criminal violations should be referred to the Chief State's Attorney.

We trust that this letter addresses your concerns.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Susan Quinn Cobb
Assistant Attorney General

RB/SQC


Footnote:

1 Mr. Meskill also asked the Ethics Commission how certain other restrictions of the state ethics code would effect his future employment with the Tribal Commission if he accepted the position as executive director.

2 In 1991, Mr. William Hickey, the former executive director of the Division, accepted a position with the Tribal Commission. In response to a request from this Office, the Ethics Commission determined that Mr. Hickey's employment with the Tribal Commission was not proscribed by the ethics code because the Tribal Commission was not a "business" subject to the ethics code's revolving door restrictions. Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 91-23.

3 A 1991 ordinance of the Tribe establishes the Tribal Commission and sets forth its duties, powers and responsibilities in connection with regulating the Tribe's gaming operations. We have attached a copy of that tribal ordinance.

4 Because we conclude that General Statutes  12-557d(c) does not prohibit Mr. Meskill from accepting employment with the Tribal Commission, it is not necessary for us to decide what remedies are available for violations of Section 12-557d(c).


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