Consultants as Teaching Staff
Advisory Opinion 91-06-1015
ISSUE: WHETHER OR NOT EMPLOYEE EVALUATION OF CONSULTANT CONTRACT PROPOSALS WHEN THE EMPLOYEE PARTICIPATES IN TRAINING SESSIONS CONDUCTED BY ONE OF THE CONTENDING CONSULTANTS COULD CONSTITUTE A VIOLATION OF THE CODE OF ETHICS?
Opinion: The King County Code of Ethics does not prima facie prohibit the hiring of former employees as consultants. A conflict of interest would rise if an employee who was trained by a consultant is designated to be the person to screen, evaluate, make selections or recommendations regarding proposals submitted by the same consultant.
The Board notes that based on the facts of each individual case, the nature of a person's previous county employment , including his or her duties under contract, could give rise to a conflict of interest under the Code of Ethics.
In addition, the Board finds that Section 3.04.035 B does not prohibit the hiring of consultants to work for their former department within one year after termination of County employment. There may be other provisions of the County Code that could do so.
Further, the Board notes that if an employee has been trained by someone who then submits a proposal to the organizational unit that the employee is involved in, that employee should not evaluate the proposal.
Statement of Circumstances: The coordinator of the Sensitive Areas Ordinance Implementation project housed in the Department of Building and Land has solicited an advisory opinion from the King County Board of Ethics generated by the department's need to hire private consultants to conduct training for staff. Questions presented to the Board relate to whether or not the department can hire former BALD staff members as consultants to train current employees and whether a conflict exists if departmental employees oversee, evaluate or make selections from proposals submitted by consultants who have trained them.
Pertaining to Section 3.04.020 B Just and equitable treatment, the Board finds that, given the influence including informal and indirect indoctrination, involved in the process of training, the established relationship between a trainer and trainee (if the trainees also evaluate proposals that involve the trainer), can lead to different treatment of persons submitting proposals.
The 'different treatment' can come about both at the selection time and in the future in the consultant/trainer submits additional proposals in a proposals in a process that the trainees are privy to. The established relationship between the parties would undermine the appearance of fairness for the entire consultant selection process, resulting in a violation of the Code of Ethics.
We believe that Section 3.04.020 B addresses issues of undue influence and includes the possibilities that involvement or relationships that are otherwise harmless that may in fact be beneficial could give rise to the appearance of fairness which can undermine the validity of a process. As in this case, an otherwise honest process such as training could give rise to a conflict of interest. (We note that there is nothing wrong with having former employees hired as trainers; it is the meshing of the training and proposal evaluation process that presents the conflict).
Section 3.04.035 B (Conflict of Interest), does not apply in situations where former county employees are retained by the County. Consultants under contract are to provide services to the County. In our view, Section 3.04.035 B is primarily directed to former County employees who are retained by other persons who may attempt to influence County action. This section does not prohibit employees of King County government from hiring as a consultant someone who previously worked for the agency as an employee.
AUTHORITY RELIED UPON
B. Obligations to Citizens. No county employee shall grant any special consideration, treatment or advantage beyond that which is available to every other citizen. 3.04.030 Conflict of interest. No county employee shall engage in any act which is in conflict with the performance of official duties. A county employee shall be deemed to have a conflict of interest if the employee directly or indirectly:
B. Is beneficially interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract, sale, lease, option or purchase that may be made by, through, or under the supervision of the employee, in whole or in part, or accepts, directly or indirectly, any compensation, gift or thing of value from any other person beneficially interested therein; 3.04.035 Conflict of Interest - former employees and members of county boards and commissions.
B. All other county employees are prohibited from attempting to influence for compensation their former departments within one year after termination of county employment: provided, that such prohibition shall not apply to former deputy prosecuting attorneys with respect to their representation of defendants in criminal proceedings. For two years after leaving the count's employ, former employees are required to disclose past county employment prior to participation in any county action;
ISSUED ON THE __________________ day of __________________, 1991
C. No former county employee may assist any person for compensation or share in compensation received by any person on matters concerning which the former employee is prohibited form participating personally.
Signed for the Board: Dr. J. Patrick Dobel, Chair
Timothy Edwards, Esq.JPD:dwm
Dr. Judith Woods
Dr. J. Patrick Dobel, Chair
Tim Hill, King County Executive
King County Councilmembers
Bob Stier, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney
Rella Foley, Ombudsman, Office of Citizen Complaints
Gregory Kipp, Manager, Building and Land Development
Phyllis Alleyne, Assistant Manager, Building and Land Development