Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1999-18

Advisory Opinion No. 1999-18
Advisory Opinion No. 1999-18

Application Of The Code Of Ethics To Official
Action By The Secretary Of OPM Which Affects His Financial Interests

Marc S. Ryan, Secretary, Office of Policy and Management (OPM) has asked the Commission for an opinion regarding the following question:

Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 12-62, each Connecticut municipality is required to revalue all real property in accordance with a schedule contained in subsection (b) of the statute. Under subsection (d) of the statute, any municipality which fails to conduct a revaluation within the schedule shall forfeit ten percent of the total amount of its state grants-in-aid. However, the Secretary of OPM may, after a written request from the chief executive officer of the municipality, waive this forfeiture for reasonable cause. Id.

The City of Waterbury, where Secretary Ryan is a homeowner, did not conduct the required revaluations for the 1997 and 1998 grand lists. Therefore, Waterbury is subject to the statutory forfeiture which will result in a reduction in state aid of almost ten million dollars. As a consequence, there would almost certainly be an increase in the City’s mill rate with a concomitant substantial increase in property taxes to the City. Specifically, Secretary Ryan estimates that the forfeiture in question would cause a $300 annual increase in his property tax.

The Secretary has now been notified that Waterbury will be applying for the waiver as provided for by law. Therefore, he has asked the Commission whether, under The Code Of Ethics For Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. Chapter 10, Part I, he may proceed to rule on the waiver.

In pertinent part, the Code states that a public official has a potential conflict of interest if he is required to take an official action which would affect the financial interests of himself, his spouse, parent, brother, sister, child, child’s spouse, or a business with which he is associated. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-86(a). However, no conflict exists if the interest is de minimis in nature or is not distinct from that of a substantial segment of the general public. Id. Finally, if the official with the conflict has no immediate superior (e.g., agency head) he must notify the State Ethics Commission and take whatever action the Commission prescribes. Id.

Applying these provisions to the matter under review: Clearly, the Secretary of OPM will be required to take an action which would affect his financial interest. Additionally, the interest is neither de minimis (defined by the Commission as less than $100 per year) nor is it shared by a "substantial segment" of the general public (defined by the Commission as equivalent to "all licensed drivers, all homeowners, all parents, etc."). Regulations of Conn. State Agencies Sec. 1-81-30. This second determination is not altered by the fact that the Secretary believes at least two other cities, Naugatuck and Danbury, will request a waiver and it is his intention to treat all requests consistently.

Consequently, the Secretary has acted appropriately, pursuant to 1-86(a), by seeking the State Ethics Commission’s guidance before proceeding in this matter. At the same time, he has proposed a proactive solution to the potential conflict which obviates the need for further action by the Commission. Specifically, Secretary Ryan has notified the Commission that, regardless of its ruling, it is his intention to donate to the City of Waterbury an amount equal to the potential effect on his property tax (i.e., $300 annually) for each year in which the failure to revalue negatively impacts the City’s mill rate. Furthermore, in order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, the Secretary will make this donation whether or not he decides to grant the waiver at issue.

Secretary Ryan’s decision is commendable and will avoid any conflict of interests, real or apparent. Finally, it should be noted that no relative or business interest enumerated in 1-86(a) resides separately in or is located in the City, and, therefore, no further action by the Secretary is required.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick,

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