Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1998-15

Advisory Opinion No. 1998-15
Advisory Opinion No. 1998-15

Application of Outside Employment Rules to Chair of State Library Board

Patricia L. Owens, Interim State Librarian, has asked the State Ethics Commission to apply the outside employment rules of the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79 et seq., to the following set of facts: The Chair of the State Library Board, E. Frederick Peterson, who was appointed to his position by a member of the Legislature, has been retained for the past year as an independent consultant by an insurance agency to help the agency develop a business plan to sell disability insurance to individual members of the Connecticut Library Association. Mr. Peterson is not licensed to sell insurance, but he appears at library functions (such as the upcoming Connecticut Library Association annual meeting) in the company of members of the insurance agency, wearing a name tag that identifies him as a their consultant.

The duties of the State Library Board are enumerated in Title 11 of the General Statutes. These duties include the appointment of the State Librarian, planning for state-wide library service, establishing standards for principal public libraries, and making contracts and appropriations where necessary. Although Ms. Owens indicates that much of the work is performed by staff of the Division of Library Development, the State Library Board wields significant statutory authority. For example, applications for state aid to local libraries are made to the Board, which is empowered to promulgate regulations governing the process, as well as to calculate various figures on which the grants are based. Conn. Gen. Stat. 11-24b(c), (e) and (h). Ms. Owens states that the Board does not approve these grants, although it does hear appeals should a grant be denied. Similarly, although the staff may make recommendations regarding the granting of construction cost grants, and the Board may routinely approve the recommendations, the ultimate statutory authority to make the grants rests exclusively with the Board. Conn. Gen. Stat. 11-24c.

Turning to Ms. Owens’ specific question, it is clear that Mr. Peterson is a public official as that term is used in the Code of Ethics. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(k). The Code contains two pertinent sections regarding the outside employment of a public official. Under Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(b), a public official may not accept outside employment which impairs his independence of judgment with regard to his official duties. Secondly, under Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c), a public official may not use his public office or position to obtain financial gain for himself. Mr. Peterson has indicated that the insurance agency hired him as a "facilitator" to help the agency sell insurance to individuals who are employed at libraries throughout the state, because his name is familiar to them through his position at the State Library Board. Although the Board may not often disagree with the recommendations of its staff, nonetheless, it has been statutorily assigned significant authority over the allocation of state funds to local libraries. Therefore, it is not appropriate for the Chair of the Board to accept outside employment as a consultant with a private insurance agency targeting the very population served by the Board. See, Advisory Opinion Nos. 96-1, 57 Conn. L. J. 34, p. 2D (2/20/96) ("Restrictions on Outside Legal Work Performed by An Associate Dean of a Connecticut University For University Students."); No. 94-21, 56 Conn. L. J. 20, p.3D (11/15/94) ("Effect of Outside Employment Restrictions On Proposed Preparation of Private Publication By Department of Public Works Employee For Sale To Design Professionals."); and No. 94-14, 56 Conn. L. J. 4, p.3C (7/26/94) ("Outside Employment of Revenue Examiner, Department of Revenue Services, Selling Deferred Compensation Plans"). Of course, this ruling does not preclude Mr. Peterson from assisting the insurance agency in developing business plans to target other populations, including persons connected with libraries outside of Connecticut.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:02:27 AM