Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2001-24

Advisory Opinion No. 2001-24
Advisory Opinion No. 2001-24

Application Of The Code To An Outside Position Offered By
Virtue Of One’s Community Prominence

Dr. Janice Hadley, the President of Housatonic Community College, has asked the State Ethics Commission whether she may accept a position on the People’s Bank Advisory Board (the Board). The position is compensated; providing a stipend for each board meeting. In making this request, President Hadley advises that she believes she has been asked to serve by virtue of her state position.

As a threshold matter, the Code prohibits a public official or state employee from accepting "…a fee or honorarium for an article, appearance or speech, or for participation at an event in the public official’s or state employee’s official capacity…" Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(k). A stipend for participating in recurring, periodic board meetings is, however, distinguishable. Furthermore, if permitted under the Code to serve on the Board, the President would not be acting in her "official capacity", but rather would be undertaking outside employment which would have to be performed on nonstate time.

The determination of whether or not the outside employment is, in fact, permissible turns on the issue of whether the acceptance of the position constitutes an improper use of office for financial gain in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84 (c). Pursuant to Commission Regulations, "Generally, subsection …(c) of Section 1-84 [is] violated when the public official or state employee accepts outside employment with an individual or entity which can benefit from the state servant’s official actions (e.g., the individual in his or her state capacity has specific regulatory, contractual or supervising authority over the private person)." Regulations of Conn. State Agencies 1-81-17.

In this instance, President Hadley exercises no such authority over People’s Bank. Nonetheless, as the President freely admits, her pending appointment is directly attributable to her state position. Therefore, the Commission must decide whether this factor alone constitutes an improper use of office.

The question is one that is susceptible to alternative analyses. On the one hand, it can be argued that outside employment offered by virtue of one’s state position is, by definition, tantamount to an improper use of office for financial gain. On the other hand, it can be argued that the employment in question is, in reality, offered by virtue of the fact that President Hadley’s position reflects her status in the community of Bridgeport, the site of People’s Bank’s headquarters.

After reviewing these alternative interpretations, the Commission believes that notwithstanding President Hadley’s lack of official authority over her potential outside employer, the authorization of compensated work resulting directly from one’s state position creates an unacceptable precedent under the applicable provisions of The Code Of Ethics for Public Officials. Consequently, while President Hadley may serve on the Board as a volunteer, she may not accept remuneration other than necessary expenses.

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:03:54 AM