Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2002-17

Advisory Opinion No. 2002-17
Advisory Opinion No. 2002-17

Application Of The Code To UCONN Athletic
Department Expense Reimbursements

Rachel Rubin, the University of Connecticut’s (UCONN) Associate Director of Athletics for Ethics and Regulatory Affairs, has asked the State Ethics Commission for an advisory opinion regarding the following issue. On certain occasions, UCONN's Department of Athletics will charter a plane to transport a university team to a game or tournament. Typically, UCONN will utilize a charter when it facilitates academic purposes, e.g. allowing student athletes to attend the maximum number of classes before or after competition. Under a policy established by the Department of Athletics, family of team coaches are allowed to accompany the teams on such trips if space is available. Under current policy, these family members must reimburse UCONN for the actual cost of the travel in question, i.e.; a seat on a charter plane is valued by dividing the cost of the charter by the number of seats. As a consequence of this policy, the per person travel cost is often prohibitive; and the family members will therefore often make alternative travel arrangements, e.g., traveling by commercial airlines.

Attorney Rubin has now asked whether UCONN’s travel reimbursement rules are required, under the relevant provision of The Code Of Ethics For Public Officials; or, alternatively, whether it would be sufficient for the family members to reimburse the University the cost of an equivalent commercial airline seat.

Under the Ethics Code it is clearly necessary for immediate family members to reimburse the State for benefits, such as the travel in question, received by virtue of their relative’s official position. See, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c). The proper calculation for such reimbursement is governed by the Commission’s regulatory valuation rules. See, Regulations of Conn. State Agencies 1-81-20. Valuation of benefits. Under these Commission Regulations the value of the benefit equals the cost to the payor, i.e. UCONN, if the benefit was obtained by the payor in a marketplace transaction. 1-81-20(d)(1). In this instance, the family member’s ticket was not purchased by UCONN in a traditional commercial transaction. Rather, the Department of Athletics charters an entire plane based on the needs of the team in question, with no consideration given to whether and at what cost unused seats may be available to non-university personnel. Under such circumstances, it is reasonable to look to the alternative valuation method set forth in 1-81-20(d)(2). Under that provision, when 1-81-20(d)(1) is not applicable, the fair market value of the benefit is determined by its replacement cost, i.e., the cost of purchasing the same or similar item in a marketplace transaction.

Applying this valuation standard, it is clearly sufficient, under the Ethics Code, for the family member to reimburse UCONN for the cost of a commercial coach airline ticket to and from the destination in question. Such reimbursement effectively eliminates any improper financial benefit to the state employee/coach’s family. At the same time, it allows the University and the affected individuals to utilize essentially excess seating in a manner that is both convenient and cost equitable.

By order of the Commission,
Rosemary Giuliano



Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:04:20 AM