Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1998-23

Advisory Opinion No. 1998-23
Advisory Opinion No. 1998-23

Acceptance Of Compensation By Staff And Board Members Of State Agency
For Services Solicited By Agency Executive Director

Elaine Zimmerman is the Executive Director of The State of Connecticut Commission on Children ("CCC"), which agency directs, among other things, the Parent Leadership Training Institute ("PLTI"). The purpose of the PLTI is to introduce parents to the process by which public policy is shaped and to teach them advocacy skills in order to facilitate and encourage their involvement on behalf of children. This program was developed by Ms. Zimmerman in her official capacity. The CCC staff trains and appoints PLTI instructors, independent contractors who are in turn paid with public and private money that includes state funds. Ms. Zimmerman now asks the State Ethics Commission whether, under the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. Chapter 10, Part I, it is permissible for her to hire CCC’s staff members or board members to serve as instructors for the PLTI program.

As a preliminary matter, it is clear that the state, through CCC staff and its executive director, directs the appointment of these paid instructors. An instructor is paid approximately $2,000.00 for a ten week course of instruction. Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(i), no public official or state employee "… shall enter into any contract with the state, valued at one hundred dollars or more, other than a contract of employment as a state employee or pursuant to a court appointment, unless the contract has been awarded through an open and public process, including prior public offer and subsequent public disclosure of all proposals considered and the contract awarded…." No specific offer or bid procedure is required provided that the process utilized allows all or most of those persons interested in and qualified to fulfill the contract to apply and compete. Regulations of Conn. State Agencies Sec. 1-81-19(a). For example, an advertisement of the availability of the contract in the general circulation newspapers for the area in question or in trade or professional journals directed toward the business or profession qualified to do the work in question is sufficient. Id.

With the above-referenced procedures in place, the selection of a staff member of CCC to act as a paid instructor on the individual’s own personal time and without the use of state resources is entirely in keeping with the provisions of the Code, as the staff member is not in any position to affect the financial interests of those involved in the selection process.

However, a CCC Board member in not similarly situated. Given the nature of the executive director’s and staff’s subordinate positions to members of the Board, the acceptance of this paid engagement by a Board member from a subordinate would constitute an acceptance of employment which would impair his independence of judgment as to his official duties in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(b). Further, such acceptance would constitute an improper use of office, however inadvertent, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c). An impropriety under the Code would arise here not because of the intent of the parties, which is no way in question, but due to the inherent nature of the subordinate/superior relationship. It should also be noted that a Board member may nonetheless assume the responsibilities of a PLTI instructor without compensation, in keeping with the Code.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick

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