Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1999-1

Advisory Opinion No. 1999-1
Advisory Opinion No. 1999-1

Application Of Code Of Ethics To Outside Employment Of Commission
On Fire Prevention And Control Staff Members

Jeffrey Morrissette, State Fire Administrator, has asked how the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79 et seq., applies to the paid outside activities of the part-time and full-time employees of the state’s Commission on Fire Prevention and Control ("Fire Commission"). Under Conn. Gen. Stat. 7-323j et seq, the duties of the Fire Commission include setting various standards for state and local fire fighters. The Fire Commission also appoints the State Fire Administrator, who oversees the operation of the Office of State Fire Administration. The duties of that Office include providing educational programs, recommending specifications of fire service materials and assisting in the purchase of such equipment, administering federal fire funds and grants and reviewing the purchase of fire apparatus or equipment at state institutions, facilities and properties. See Conn. Gen. Stat. 7-323o. Mr. Morrissette has asked whether it is appropriate for staff members (1) to offer their services locally as independent consultants "primarily delivering training programs similar to those the [Fire] Commission presents," and/or (2) to serve as representatives for companies which sell products and services to fire departments.

While the Code of Ethics does not contain a blanket prohibition against outside employment, it does contain a number of restrictions on that employment. First, of course, a state employee may not use state time, materials or personnel to further his or her outside employment. Secondly, a state employee may not accept outside employment that would impair his or her independence of judgment as to his or her official duties, or that would induce disclosure of confidential information acquired in the course of those official duties. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(b). Finally, a state employee may not use his or her public office or position, or confidential information garnered from such office or position, for financial gain. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c).

Applying these rules to the first question presented by Mr. Morrissette, it would not be a violation of the Code of Ethics for a state employee to offer private training similar to that offered by the state provided that (1) the employee does not have any supervisory, contractual, regulatory or fiscal authority, real or perceived, over the person or entity interested in the training and (2) the training is not something that should more properly be performed as part of the employee’s state job. A state employee may not be "paid by a private party to do what he or she essentially already required to do as part of his or her state duties." See State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 89-9, "Application of Outside Employment Provisions of Code to State Assessment Advisers’ Acceptance of Related Municipal Employment," 50 Conn. L. J. 44, p. 1C (5/2/89). A Fire Commission employee whose state job includes the authority to determine or recommend whether certain training will be performed by Fire Commission staff should not also offer such services privately. Also, a Fire Commission employee whose state responsibilities include determining how federal funds or grants are distributed should not accept outside employment from an entity which might be seeking these funds. If, however, the Fire Commission determines that it is unable to provide all the training requested, it would not be a violation of the Code for a staff member who does not exercise discretionary authority to offer similar training privately.

The "use of public position" prohibition of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c) raises a related issue. If requests for training come to the Fire Commission office, it would be a use of position for Fire Commission staff to offer to perform the training privately. This conflict can be avoided if the Fire Commission publicly advertised for qualified trainers, which could include the Commission’s own employees, and then provided names off the list on a rotating basis to interested parties who contacted the Fire Commission.

Turning to Mr. Morrissette’s second question, a similar analysis applies to Fire Commission employees who wish to serve as representatives for companies which sell products and services to fire departments. Only those employees who have no supervisory, regulatory, contractual or fiscal authority over the private companies or the fire departments should accept such outside employment. Otherwise, for example, an outside equipment manufacturer might think that by hiring a Fire Commission employee who assists in drafting fire equipment specifications for state purchases, the manufacturer has a better to chance to have its equipment fit those specifications. Similarly, a fire department being asked by a Fire Commission employee who works on grants to purchase certain fire equipment might feel pressure to buy in order to have a better chance at future grants. Such an inappropriate use of position, however unintentional, is a violation of the Code of Ethics. See State Ethics Commission Docket Number 94-4, "In the Matter of A Complaint Against William Halstead," (Fire chief at state hospital who prepared bid specification for new fire truck, and was also employed as salesperson for private fire apparatus company, violated Code of Ethics by accepting outside employment that impaired his independence of judgment.)

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick,

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:02:57 AM