Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2003-15

Advisory Opinion No. 2003-15
Advisory Opinion No. 2003-15

Application Of The Code To The Hiring Of The Spouse
Of The Director Of Farmland Preservation

The Executive Director of the State Properties Review Board (SPRB), Stanley T. Babiarz, has asked the State Ethics Commission whether, under The Code Of Ethics For Public Officials, the spouse of the Director of Farmland Preservation may be hired, as an independent contractor, for the purpose of providing appraisals regarding the value of farm development rights.

The Director of Farmland Preservation, under the auspices of the Commissioner of Agriculture, administers the State’s program for the preservation of agricultural land.  See, Conn. Gen. Stat. Chapter 422a.  In essence, the Program provides for the State, through the Department of Agriculture with the approval of the SPRB, to purchase the development rights to agricultural lands for the purpose of preservation of such lands for both commercial use and conservation.  Id. at 22-26aa.  As part of the Program, the Department must “…obtain and review one or more fee appraisals of the property…”  Id. at 22-26cc.

As the State Ethics Commission has held on several occasions, the provisions of the Ethics Code do not, in general, prohibit relatives, including spouses, from working for the same state agency.  See, e.g.,Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 94-18, 56 CLJ 11, p. 5B (September 13, 1994):  wherein the Commission discussed the necessary restrictions placed on spouses working in the same department of an agency.

To enumerate these restrictions as applicable to the question posed, the potential hiring of the Director’s spouse as an independent contractor triggers the application of Conn. Gen. State. 1-84(i), which requires that any such hiring be done through an open and public process including a prior public offer of the employment opportunity.  Additionally, the Director must play no role in the hiring process, with all necessary decisions made by a peer or superior.  See, Regulations of Conn. State Agencies 1-81-29.  Finally, if the spouse is hired, the Director must again recuse from any action which would affect the financial interests of the appraiser’s position (e.g., salary determinations, performance review, etc.).

Provided the Commissioner of Agriculture is willing and able to implement these required restrictions, the hiring in question is permissible under the Ethics Code.

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano
Chairperson

 


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