Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1996-2

Advisory Opinion No. 1996-2
Advisory Opinion No. 1996-2

Bridgeport Harbor Master’s Proposed Agreement
With
Bridgeport Port Authority

The Bridgeport Port Authority (the “BPA”) is a municipal quasi-governmental entity with power over the survey, development and operation of port facilities adjacent to the Bridgeport harbor.  A Harbor Master is responsible for the general care and supervision of the harbor and navigable waterways within the Bridgeport area.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. 15-1 through 15-7.  The Habor Master also serves as a member of the BPA.

The Harbor Master’s Office serves as the only security force on the water of the Bridgeport harbor.  The BPA has solicited bids for security services for the BPA ferry terminal and parking areas adjacent to the Bridgeport harbor.  The current Bridgeport Harbor Master has submitted a proposal in response to BPA’s request offering the security services of the Harbor Master’s Office.

The BPA has stated that the proposal submitted by the Harbor Master’s Office is the best response received.  The Authority has asked if it is permissible, under the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. Chapter 10, Part I, for the Harbor Master to provide the requested services.

The Harbor Master is appointed by the Governor pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 15-1.  He reports to the Commissioner of Transportation and his salary is determined by the Commissioner of Transportation and his salary is determined by the Commissioner of Administrative Services.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 15-1, 15-2.  It is, therefore, a position within the executive branch of state government.  It follows that the Harbor master is a public official, as defined by Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(k), and subject to the provisions of the Code.

Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c), a public official may not use his public position, however inadvertently, for personal financial gain.  The State Ethics Commission has previously held that “[t]here seems to be no doubt that there are inherent conflicts of interest when an employee is also the employer, or a full member of the body which is the employer.”  State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 91-18, 53 Conn. L.J. No. 2, p. 3C (July 9, 1991) (Health Care Access Commission may not enter into consulting contract with one of its members).

By virtue of his state position, the Harbor Master is a member of the BPA which must select and supervise the successful bidder for the contract in question.  His credibility among potential bidders does not result from his expertise alone, but rather results, in part, from his current position as Harbor Master.

Furthermore, a public official may not accept outside employment which would impair his independence of judgment as to his official duties.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(b).  If the contract at issue went forward as proposed, other members of the BPA would be placed in the untenable position of supervising and critiquing a fellow commissioner.  At the same time, the Harbor Master may be persuaded to, or unconsciously, take certain official actions in order to ingratiate himself with other commissioners; thereby ensuring the continuation of his outside contract.

It would, therefore, be an impermissible use of the Harbor Master’s public office, however inadvertent, for him to enter into a contract with the BPA.  Additionally, it would constitute outside employment which would impair his independence of judgment.  Consequently, the BPA should not accept the proposal submitted by the Harbor Master’s office.

By order of the Commission,

David T. Nassef
Chairperson



Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:01:37 AM