Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2002-19

Advisory Opinion No. 2002-19
Advisory Opinion No. 2002-19

Application Of The Code Of Ethics To Department Of Consumer ProtectionOccupational And Licensing Inspector Seeking Election To Paid Office Of Union Whose Members
Are Regulated By The Department

Anna Ficeto, Managing Attorney at the Department of Consumer Protection ("DCP"), has asked how the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79 et seq., applies to a DCP occupational and licensing inspector who is seeking election as the Business Manager of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada ("Union"). If elected to this paid position, the inspector intends to resign his position with the DCP. The election begins in early November, with the results announced in mid-December. In his role at the DCP, the inspector’s duties include site inspections and investigations for all occupational trades, and involve both union and non-union employees and companies. Attorney Ficeto raises several questions, including whether the inspector may continue to conduct inspections and investigations, or testify at hearings, during the election period, and whether he may use his current DCP position during the course of the election.

Under the Code of Ethics, a state employee may not use his state position, or any confidential information acquired by reason of his state service, for financial gain, however inadvertent that use may be. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c). Because the Union position is a compensated one, it would be a conflict of interest under 1-84(c) for the inspector, during the course of the election period, to continue to conduct inspections and investigations regarding either union or non-union work. To hold otherwise would open both the inspector and the DCP to potential charges of favoritism and/or bias. The DCP could reassign the inspector, however. For example, the DCP runs a consumer complaint hotline, and the inspector could assist with the phone calls to that line. If a call comes in regarding a prohibited matter, the inspector must notify his supervisor, who will then assign the matter to someone at or above the inspector’s level. See Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-86(a). Finally, with regard to the inspector’s potential testimony at a DCP hearing, the Code of Ethics would not prevent the inspector from testifying concerning a written report prepared by the inspector prior to the Union election period.

Finally, Attorney Ficeto has asked whether, in general, the Code of Ethics prohibits a DCP inspector from holding active membership in a union whose members may be subject to the inspector’s investigation or inspection. Provided that the inspector’s union involvement is uncompensated, the Code of Ethics contains no such prohibition. Receipt of a previously-earned union pension does not create a conflict of interest where one does not otherwise exist. Of course, the DCP may seek to promulgate its own rules to address issues not covered by the state Code of Ethics.

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano
Chairperson

 

 



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