Ethics for State Environmental Protection Officials

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					Ethics for State Environmental Protection Officials
Ryke Longest
Special Deputy Attorney General

Ethics is…
• The discipline dealing with right and wrong, good and bad or what we call moral duty and obligation • From the Greek „ethikos‟ meaning 'theory of living„ or „starting point” • The Western tradition of ethics is sometimes called moral philosophy

Ethics Come From Sources
• Sources of ethics include social, religious, political and familial values • Ethical values may be expressed in oral traditions and social settings • Ethical values may be enacted into ethical codes with force of law

Open Meetings Law
“Whereas the public bodies that administer the legislative, policymaking, quasi-judicial, administrative, and advisory functions of North Carolina and its political subdivisions exist solely to conduct the people's business, it is the public policy of North Carolina that the hearings, deliberations, and actions of these bodies be conducted openly.”

Public Records
“The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law. As used herein, "minimal cost" shall mean the actual cost of reproducing the public record or public information.”

Wake Up!
“You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in your arithmetic when your mind is working properly; while you are making them you cannot see them…Good people know about both good and evil; bad people do not know about either” --C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Ethical Codes
• General principles about an organization's beliefs on matters-operating policies and procedures often incorporate ethics • Procedures to be used in specific ethical situations - such as conflicts of interest or the acceptance of gifts • The effectiveness of such codes of ethics depends on the extent to which to leadership supports them with sanctions and rewards

Executive Order No. 1
• Contains general principles, prohibited conduct and procedural rules • Section 7 spells out Rules of Conduct • Primarily aimed at conflicts of interest • Applies to Commissions and Boards • Applies to exempt DENR employees • Places duties on agency heads • Serves as ethical guidance for others

Conflicts of Interest – Actual
• Financial benefit, direct or indirect • Receive items of value in exchange for influence of decision • Personal financial gain for carrying out public duties

Actual Conflict, cont’d
• Use or disclose information gained in the course of responsibilities for personal or associate‟s financial interest • Improperly use or disclose any information deemed confidential by North Carolina law and therefore not a public record • Advance employment of a family member to a position which the Public Official supervises or manages. A Public Official shall not participate in an action relating to the disciplining of a member of the Public Official's family.

Conflicts of Interest – Appearance
reasonable person would conclude from the circumstances that the Public Official's ability to protect the public interest, or perform public duties, is compromised by familial, personal, or financial interests. An appearance of conflict could exist even in the absence of a true conflict of interest.”
“A

Potential for Conflict
“Many situations or relationships will be identified that constitute a potential conflict of interest. This is normal and expected in many cases. It does not mean that the Official has a disqualifying conflict of interest. It does not mean that the Official is “unethical.””

Gifts From Contractors Illegal
• N.C. Gen. Stat. § 133-32: gifts and favors from public contractors to State officials and employees illegal • Unlawful for any contractor to give gifts or favors to any government officer or employee who is charged with the duty of . . . inspecting or supervising construction • unlawful for any officer or government employee to receive or accept any such gift or favor

Exceptions: Coffee and Coozies
• Honoraria for participating in meetings (but check State Budget Manual for disclosures; no dual compensation) • Advertising items of nominal value • Meals furnished at banquets • Scheduled meeting functions of professional organizations to which employee belongs • Family gifts-must be reported to agency head if from contractor

Criminal Provision N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-234
(a) (1) No public officer or employee who is involved in making or administering a contract on behalf of a public agency may derive a direct benefit from the contract except as provided in this section, or as otherwise allowed by law.

Criminal Provision N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-234
(2) A public officer or employee who will derive a direct benefit from a contract with the public agency he or she serves, but who is not involved in making or administering the contract, shall not attempt to influence any other person who is involved in making or administering the contract.

Criminal Provision N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-234
(3) No public officer or employee may solicit or receive any gift, reward, or promise of reward in exchange for recommending, influencing, or attempting to influence the award of a contract by the public agency he or she serves.

Ethical Case Studies
A Loaded Goat!

Cash or Coozies?- Tickets
• Accept tickets from vendor to a sporting event, concert, play, or fundraising event?
 No, can‟t accept gifts from someone who does business with the agency.

• Does it make any difference if the tickets are season tickets so that there was no purchase made specifically for the Public Official?
 No, it doesn‟t matter how the vendor got the tickets.

• What if both are out of town?  Nope.

Cash or Coozies?- Meals
• Accept free meals from people doing business with the agency?

 No, can‟t accept free meals from someone who does business with agency. Even though it may arguably be of nominal value, it can cause the appearance of a conflict of interest.

• Vendor-catered banquets?

 No, this is merely a “free lunch” on a grand scale, and the same rules would apply.

• Hospitality suite at industry-wide meeting?
• If open to all attendees, perhaps.

Cash or Coozies?- Gifts
• Accept small or token gifts from vendors?
 Coozies! Typical items of nominal value include imprinted pencils or pens, matchbooks, coffee mugs, cups, etc. Regardless of value, cannot ask for items.

• Does it matter if the gift is to group rather than just an individual?

 No. The magnitude of the gift, the circumstances of the giving together with the relationship between the giver and recipient are the most important considerations.

Cash or Coozies?- Travel
• Can a vendor pay a Public Official‟s travel expenses to attend a vendorsponsored seminar?

 No, at a minimum, causes the appearance of conflict of interest.

Cash or Coozies?- Honoraria
• Accept a monetary honorarium from a vendor to speak at a meeting?
 It depends, but probably not. State Budget Manual states, “A state employee shall not accept an honorarium for an activity conducted where statereimbursed travel, work time or resources are used or where the activity can be construed as having a relationship to the employee‟s state position.…”

DENR Questions
• Should a DENR employee recommend a particular consultant or testing firm to outside parties in their regulated industries?

DENR Questions
A proposed action, such as the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant or nuclear power facility expansion, is going to take place within their neighborhood and they want to be a part of the "citizen" response to the action, how can employees interface in that process? ? How should a DENR employee participate in an issue that affects them personally?

Ethics in Government
“The ultimate answer to ethical problems in government is honest people in a good ethical environment. No web of statute or regulation, however intricately conceived, can hope to deal with the myriad possible challenges to a [person]‟s integrity or his devotion to the public interest.” --John F. Kennedy, Message to Congress on April 27, 1961

Ryke Longest Special Deputy Attorney General
(919) 716-6600 rlongest@ncdoj.com
This is an educational presentation only. It has neither been reviewed nor approved in accordance with the Attorney General‟s Policy for issuing opinions.


				
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