Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2004-1

Advisory Opinion No. 2004-1
Advisory Opinion No. 2004-1

Application Of Code Of Ethics To Statutorily-Designated Member Of State Commission If Member’s Outside Private Employer Contracts With State Commission

Chief State’s Attorney Christopher L. Morano has asked how the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79 et seq., applies to the following set of facts.  The Commission on the Standardization of the Collection of Evidence in Sexual Assault Investigations (“Standardization Commission”) is composed of thirteen statutorily-designated members.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 19a-112a(a).  One of these designated members must be a member of the Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, Inc. (CONNSACS), appointed by CONNSACS’ board of directors.  Currently, that Standardization Commission position is held by CONNSACS’ executive director.  According to Chief State’s Attorney Morano, CONNSACS “is a statewide nonprofit association of individual sexual assault crisis programs dedicated to responding to matters of sexual violence through victim assistance, community education and public policy advocacy.” 

The Standardization Commission’s major responsibility is to create and oversee a protocol for the collection of sexual assault evidence at health care facilities.  The Division of Criminal Justine is also mandated by statute to bear all costs associated with these forensic examinations.  In order to implement this latter duty, the Office of Policy and Management (“OPM”) has proposed that CONNSACS be hired by the Standardization Commission to provide screening of the bills submitted by the various health care facilities.  The funding for the CONNSACS contract would come from OPM, but the contract would be made with the Division of Criminal Justice, through the Standardization Commission.  The Standardization Commission is considered within the Division of Criminal Justice “for administrative purposes only.”  Id.

Chief State’s Attorney Morano has asked whether, under the Ethics Code, it is appropriate for CONNSACS to contract with the Standardization Commission while at the same time occupying a statutory seat on that commission.  The Ethics Commission considered a very similar issue in Advisory Opinion No. 99-12, 61 Conn. Law J. No. 2, p. 5C (7/13/99).  There, the Executive Director of the Children’s Trust Fund asked how the Code of Ethics applied to members of the Children’s Trust Fund Council, some of whom were designated by statute to serve on the Council.  The State Ethics Commission stated:

The enabling statute for the Council is similar to many of the enabling statutes for various Connecticut quasi-public agencies in that the statutory language specifies that its members must have particular backgrounds and expertise.  Unlike the quasi-public agency statutes, however, the Council’s statute does not contain an exemption from certain conflict of interest provisions of the Code of Ethics. . . . Therefore, as public officials not otherwise exempt from the application of the Code of Ethics, the Council members are subject to all of the Code’s conflict of interest sections.   

The same reasoning is true with regard to the application of the Ethics Code to the Standardization Commission.  If the Standardization Commission is considering a contract with CONNSACS, the CONNSACS executive director must abstain from any participation in the matter, including discussions, votes or any other action.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c).  Also, the Ethics Code prohibits a public official from accepting outside employment that impairs his or her independence of judgment as to his or her official duties.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(b).  Therefore, the CONNSACS employee/Standardization Commission member must not vote or take other action on matters affecting the interests of competitors of CONNSACS.

Finally, in Advisory Opinion No. 99-12, the State Ethics Commission considered an additional potential conflict of interest that may apply to the Standardization Commission as well.  Specifically, an issue may be raised under Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(b) and 1-84(c) if Standardization Commission employees are required to oversee the CONNSACS contract when they also have to answer to the CONNSACS executive director in his or her role as one of their “bosses” on the Standardization Commission.  Under the unique facts presented by Chief State’s Attorney Morano, there appear to be a number of ways to address this potential problem.  First, OPM could oversee the contract with CONNSACs, or it could be overseen by a Division of Criminal Justice employee who does not answer to the Standardization Commission.  In the alternative, the CONNSACS employee/Standardization Commission member could refrain from taking any actions with regard to Standardization Commission personnel matters while CONNSACS is under contract with the commission.

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:05:18 AM