Ethics: AO-2011-3

 

Advisory Opinion No. 2011-3

 

July 21, 2011

 

Question Presented:           Petitioner, a current state employee, is privately involved in a project, the goal of which is to create incentives for prison inmates to engage in positive behaviors.  To do so, he seeks to request that certain groups purchase children’s books which will ultimately be provided to the inmates’ children. Petitioner asks whether in the mailings that go out for this endeavor, he may list his current and/or former state positions.  

 

Brief Answer:                      Because Petitioner has indicated that he will not be compensated by virtue of this project, he may list both his current and former state positions.

 

Introduction

 

At its July 2011 regular meeting, the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board (“Board”) granted the petition for an advisory opinion submitted by Attorney William Bumpus (“Petitioner”).  The Board issues this advisory opinion on the date shown below in accordance with General Statutes § 1-81 (a) (3).  The opinion interprets only the Code of Ethics for Public Officials[1] (“Ethics Code”) and its regulations; is binding on the Board concerning the person who requested it and who acted in reliance thereon, in good faith; and is based solely on the facts provided by the Petitioner.    

 

Facts

The facts presented by the Petitioner are set forth below—in pertinent part—and are considered part of this opinion:

 

My name is William Bumpus, I am currently employed by the State of CT as an Asst. Atty. General (1997-present). I am assigned to the Child Protection Unit and represent The Department of Children and Families in court actions involving allegations of abuse and neglect.

 

I am also currently employed as an Adjunct Professor, at CCSU’s School of Business (1997-present). I teach Business Law to undergraduates and Business Ethics to graduate students.

In addition, I am also working with an individual, Dr. Ernest Garlington, who is incarcerated by the CT DOC at the Cheshire facility.

 

Our joint endeavor involves the creation of a program to provide/expand educational opportunities to inmates in CT.

My primary focus in this endeavor involves a secondary prong of the overall program, which involves incentivizing positive behaviors by the inmates, with the “reward” of a recordable children’s book. The inmate under the guidance of Dr. Ernest Garlington or volunteers with social work or therapeutic training in parent child relations, will record the book (our current intent is to utilize either “Dad and Me” or “Why I love you”, both Hallmark Books) and provide the books to their children, hopefully on or about Christmas of 2011.

 

Dr. Garlington and I have prepared a mass mail solicitation to churches, foundations and individuals, seeking pledges to buy X number of recordable books (target date Thanksgiving 2011) and deliver said books directly to a designated DOC facility for later distribution.

 

Given that Dr. Garlington is incarcerated and has severe contact limitations, in the Mailer, I intend to identify myself as a former Asst. CT State’s Attorney (1990-1993) and former CCSU’s School of Business Associate Dean/Associate Professor (1993-1997) for contact purposes concerning questions about this project.

 

I am considering utilizing my current title of CT Assistant Attorney General, as well.

 

I wish to utilize my former titles as a law enforcement attorney and educator to enhance the legitimacy and appeal of this project.

Money is not being sought nor will money be accepted.

I do not seek nor will I obtain personal financial gain.

 

Analysis

Over the years, the former State Ethics Commission, through formal and informal opinions, made it clear that the purpose of the Ethics Code is to prevent state employees and public officials from receiving inappropriate financial gain.  For example, in Advisory Opinion No. 88-11, the Commission stated:

 

[A] principal purpose of the Code of Ethics is to foster and maintain public confidence in the integrity of the operations of State government. The Code therefore attempts to prevent situations which seem to invite use of position for personal gain or which raise the distinct possibility of inadvertent use of position for such gain.[2]  

 

Given Petitioner’s assurance that he does “not seek nor will [he] obtain personal financial gain,” he may, without violating the Code the Ethics, identify his present and/or former state titles in mailings.

 

Had he sought remuneration, the Ethics Code’s “use of office” provision, i.e., General Statutes § 1-84 (c),[3] would have been triggered.  See, e.g.,:

 

·        “In order to avoid a violation of §1-84(c), however inadvertent, [the public official] and his businesses must refrain from referencing his [state position] in any oral or written solicitation of the private investments in question.”[4] 

 

·        Where an article written by a state employee was selected for publication in part because the official position of its author lent credibility and weight to the views being set forth in the piece, the Commission deemed the employee’s retention of an honorarium to be an inappropriate use of office for financial gain, in violation of General Statutes § 1-84 (c).[5]  

 

Petitioner further asks whether there are any ethical considerations or professional conflicts that he may be breaching by virtue of his involvement in the stated project.  This Board is not statutorily authorized to render opinions as to the application of laws outside of the Ethics Code.  For further guidance, Petitioner may wish to contact (a) his agency’s ethics liaison because his agency may have a stricter ethics policy addressing appearances of impropriety, and/or (b) the Connecticut Bar Association’s Professional Ethics Committee.[6]

 

 

 

By order of the Board,

 

Thomas H. Dooley

    

 

Dated:   July 21, 2011                                      Chairperson

 



[1]Chapter 10, part 1, of the General Statutes.

[2] Similarly, in response to Request for Advisory Opinion No. 3565, a former Ethics Commission staff member wrote, “[t]he primary purpose of The Code is to prohibit improper use of one’s state position for personal financial gain.”

[3]General Statutes § 1-84 (c) reads, in relevant part: “no public official or state employee shall use his public office or position or any confidential information received through his holding such public office or position to obtain financial gain for himself, his spouse, child, child's spouse, parent, brother or sister or a business with which he is associated.”

[4]Advisory Opinion No. 2001-3.

[5]Advisory Opinion No. 89-19.

[6]Attorney Elizabeth Rowe, Assistant Bar Counsel of the Statewide Bar Counsel, confirmed that the Statewide Grievance Committee does not render advisory opinions for matters other than those concerning contemplated advertisement.  However, the Professional Ethics Committee of the Connecticut Bar Association provides members of the bar with opinions on matters of professional ethics. 



Content Last Modified on 8/17/2011 10:54:17 AM