Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1994-5

Advisory Opinion No. 1994-5
Advisory Opinion No. 1994-5

Spouses Serving In Same University Department

The petitioner, a full-time faculty member at Gateway Community-Technical College, has been asked by the school to serve as the program coordinator of Office Administration.  One of the duties of the program coordinator is to supervise Office Administration faculty members.  The petitioner’s husband is a part-time Office Administration faculty member at the college.

By agreement with the college, the supervision of the petitioner’s husband, including evaluations and recommendations, will be the responsibility of the chairperson of the business department for as long as the petitioner holds the position of program coordinator.  The petitioner, in her new position, also will refrain from recommending, assigning or evaluating other part-time Office Administration faculty members.  The petitioner has asked the State Ethics Commission whether the Code of Ethics for Public Officials imposes any other limitations on her activities.

Under the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c), a state employee may not use his or her office to obtain financial gain for himself or herself, his or her spouse, child, child’s spouse, parent, brother or sister or a “business with which . . . associated.”  (See Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(b)).  The Code of Ethics does not bar spouses from working in the same department.  See State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 88-8, 49 Conn. L.J. No. 48, p. 3D (May 31, 1988).  However, any exercise of the petitioner’s authority to enhance her husband’s position, or to harm the position of other part-time faculty members against whom he competes, would be an illegal use of office within the meaning of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c).  The petitioner’s relegation, to another department chairperson, of all responsibility for supervising her husband or other part-time faculty members effectively addresses the issues raised by 1-84(c), but does not eliminate the possibility of occasional conflicts of interest which may arise.  Under Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-85, the petitioner will have a substantial conflict of interest if, by reason of her official activity, she, her spouse, dependent children, or a “business with which [she] is associated” will incur a direct and specific financial gain or loss.  Where a substantial conflict exists, the petitioner must refrain from official action.

Even if a particular situation does not pose a substantial conflict of interest, as above, it may still pose a potential conflict of interest, within the meaning of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-86.  Under 1-86 the petitioner faces a potential conflict if she is required to take an official action which would affect a financial interest of herself, her spouse, parent, sibling, child, child’s spouse or business with which she is associated, other than an interest of a de minimis nature or an interest which is not distinct from that of a substantial segment of the general public.  Where such a conflict arises, a statement describing the conflict must be prepared and the matter referred to the petitioner’s superior for assignment to another employee or official.

By order of the Commission,

Christopher T. Donohue

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:00:43 AM