Related Outside Employment
ADVISORY OPINION 98-11-1160
ISSUE: WHETHER A DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION EMPLOYEE MAY WORK AS A SUBCONSULTANT, DOING WORK SIMILAR TO HIS OFFICIAL RESPONSIBILITIES, WITHOUT A CONFLICT OF INTEREST.
OPINION: The Board of Ethics finds no conflict of interest in this specific instance. The outside employment sought by the Transportation employee, although similar to the work he performs for the County, is not within his scope of authority or responsibility as a county employee, nor does it involve municipalities or governmental agencies served by his division. The absence of these overlapping relationships, which could impair official decision-making or judgement, coupled with the employee's written notification of potential conflict to the appropriate supervisor, provides adequate distance and safeguards to avoid conflict of interest in outside employment. Departments may further protect against employee conflict of interest through written guidelines and annual training on the Code of Ethics.
STATEMENT OF CIRCUMSTANCES: An employee for the Department of Transportation owned a transportation consultant firm prior to being hired by the County. His firm conducted travel demand forecasting, traffic engineering, geography information systems (GIS), and computer aided design. As a current, full time transportation planner for the County, his responsibilities include updating County travel demand forecasting models. He now wishes to continue his outside employment as a subconsultant, doing work similar to his County responsibilities, for municipalities and government agencies within Washington State. Having informed his supervisor in writing of a potential conflict of interest, the supervisor suggested he request an opinion from the Board of Ethics on his specific circumstances.
ANALYSIS: In order to establish public confidence in government, the Code of Ethics ensures that the private conduct and financial dealings of County employees shall present no actual or apparent conflict of interest (K.C.C. 3.04.015.) Further, K.C.C. 3.04.030(I) provides that a county employee is deemed to have a conflict if that employee:
Engages in or accepts compensation, employment or renders services for any person or a governmental entity other than the county when such employment or service is incompatible with the proper discharge of official duties or would impair independence of judgment or action in the performance of official duties.
Since 1993, the Board of Ethics has issued over seven advisory opinions regarding outside employment for County employees, where private financial interests and public employment may conflict. During the course of those deliberations, the Board developed baseline questions to aid employees in determining if outside employment activities, which were similar to official responsibilities, would create a conflict of interest for the employee under the Code of Ethics. These questions, found in Advisory Opinion 1096, bring to the forefront those issues in which conflict of interest would most likely be present. These issues include: the potential impairment of fair and impartial judgement or decision-making; the relationship between official responsibilities and the outside business; and timely disclosure and recusal from any areas of conflict of interest.
In the instant case, the employee has no official relationship between the contractor who may employee him as a subcontractor in the future, nor does he have any authority over decision-making in contracts, evaluations or recommendations for any contractors with the County. The Transportation Planning Division has no contractual relationships for those services provided by the employee with the municipalities and governmental agencies cited by the employee, including the City of Renton, Snohomish County, City of Tacoma, or Washington State Department of Transportation. In addition, the employee has made timely, written disclosure to his supervisor in order to prevent a future real or apparent conflict of interest, as required in K.C.C. 3.04.037, Duty to Notify Supervisor.
The Board cautions employees who hold both full time County positions and outside employment that K.C.C. 3.04.020 prohibits the use of county property for personal convenience or profit, and private business must be conducted on the employee's own time using their own resources. In addition, the board encourages annual training and education on the Code of Ethics and written departmental guidelines related to these and other ethics-related issues to help employees avoid potential conflicts of interest.
References: King County Code of Ethics, sections 3.04.015; 3.04.030(I); 3.04.037; 3.04.020; Advisory Opinion 1096.
ISSUED THIS ___________ DAY OF _______________, 199__.
Signed for the Board: _________________________.
Dr. Lois Price Spratlen, Chair
Mr. Roland Carlson
Judge Paul M. Feinsod
Lembhard Howell, Esq.
Rev. Paul Pruitt
Ron Sims, King County Executive
King County Councilmembers
Duncan Fowler, Director Ombudsman, Office of Citizen Complaints
Carl Johansen, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney
Ho-Chuan Chen, Transportation Planner, Department of Transportation
Sue Osterhoudt, Supervisor, Transportation Planning, Department of Transportation
Don Ding, Assistant Manager, Transportation Planning, Department of Transportation