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Conflicts of Interest, Ethics and Open Government

INTENDED AUDIENCE: Public Education
CATEGORY: Governance, Public Education

The last few years have seen increased scrutiny by both the media and the public of all aspects of government. It is now more important than ever for public employees and officials to be aware of the high responsibilities and expectations that accompany public service.

Public employees and officials are required to act in the best interests of the public. They are charged with the protection and management of public assets and resources, and must at all times conduct themselves and their business dealings in accordance with ethical standards, regulatory requirements and the public trust.

Newspapers abound with stories of public officials under investigation for actions they have taken both on and off-duty. Local, state and federal investigations into decisions made by public officials, and the civil and criminal consequences of misconduct, are common events. Everyone recognizes that accepting kick-backs or pay-offs is improper, unethical and illegal. But the laws relating to conflicts of interest and other ethical obligations of public officers and employee assure that sometimes the greatest “challenge for public officers and employees lies in effectively discharging their duties while complying with all applicable ethical standards.

Government agencies, and their employees and officers, are subject to state and local ethics laws and codes of conduct that have been implemented to regulate conduct and behavior. These codes include restrictions relating to the acceptance of gifts, free trips and travel expenses, the acceptance of honorarium, conduct while searching for a new job, conduct after leaving public employment and many other matters.

Violations of these codes carry a multitude of consequences, from civil or criminal penalties to forfeiture of office. When government employees fail to comply with a governing ethics code, they may also be subject to discipline and discharge.  This workbook covers these laws and codes of conduct.

Topics Include:

  • Conflicts of Interest
    • General Background
    • Statutory and Non-Statutory Regulation of Public Officials and Employees’ Conflicts of Interest
  • Ethics Laws Relative to Personal Financial Gain
    • Bribery
    • Extra Compensation
    • Conduct upon Leaving Office
  • Ethics Laws Relating to Claiming Perquisites of Office
    • Gifts
    • Honoraria Prohibitions
    • Loans
    • Misuse of Public Funds
    • Gifts of Public Funds
    • Free or Discounted Transportation
  • Laws Relating to Fair Processes
    • Common Law Bias
    • Due Process
    • Competitive Bidding
    • Nepotism
  • Regulation of Political Activity
    • Use of Public Funds
    • Regulation of Political Activity of School and College District Employees
  • Government Transparency Laws
    • Economic Interest Disclosure
    • Brown Act
    • Public Records Act
  • Governance Issues
    • Basic Parliamentary Procedure
    • Quorum and Voting Issues for Schools and Community College Districts
    • Board or Council Member Misconduct
    • Role of Legislative Body

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