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Interpretative Opinion 99-19: Conflict of Interest

January 20, 2000

Ms. Cathy Erhman
1731 Crestwood Drive, NW
Washington, DC  20011

Re: Conflict of Interest

Dear Ms. Erhman:

This responds to your request for an interpretative opinion concerning whether a conflict of interest may exist as a result of your status as a Commissioner on the DC Arts and Humanities Commission (Commission) and your employment as the Director, Millennium Washington, Executive Office of the Mayor.  You state that you were nominated by the Mayor in the Spring of 1999 to serve on the Commission, and that you were sworn-in on August 26, 1999.  You further state that you are currently a contract employee of the Executive Office of the Mayor, and that the term of your contract will expire at the end of December 2000.

As you are aware, several unsuccessful telephone contacts were made to you by this office to obtain the particulars of your employment arrangement with the Executive Office of the Mayor.  This was necessary to assist us in making a definitive determination relative to the issue presented.  However, in the absence of more specifics, you appear to ask if there is a prohibition on your service as a DC Arts and Humanities Commissioner during your tenure as an employee in the Executive Office of the Mayor.

DC Code § 31-2001 et seq., established the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities “to evaluate and initiate action on matters relating to the arts, to encourage programs and the development of programs which promote progress in the arts . . .”.  Further, this statute sets forth the composition and terms of members appointed to the Commission, and provides that “[m]embers of the Commission shall serve without compensation, but shall be entitled to receive, in accordance with applicable District of Columbia regulations, reimbursement for expenses . .  .”.  The Commission is empowered to make grants, to contract with governmental departments and agencies, and to develop and undertake programs that will encourage participation in activities in the arts and humanities, etc.  It is important to note that this statute does not bar employees of the District of Columbia from serving as members of the Commission.

DC Code § 1-1461(a) states, in pertinent part, “ . . . elective and public office is a public trust, and any effort to realize personal gain through official conduct is a violation of that trust.”

DC Code § 1-1461(b) states, “[n]o public official shall use his or her official position or office to obtain financial gain for himself or herself, . . . other than that compensation provided by law for said public official.  Pursuant to 3 DCM.R. § 3300.2 ( c), members of Boards and Commissions in the District of Columbia who are required to file Financial Disclosure Statements (FDS) are considered public officials for purposes of the conflict of interest statute, thus are held to the foregoing standards of conduct.  These standards prohibit any conduct, or activity, which could be reasonable inferred as engaged in for personal financial gain.

18 D.P.M. § 1804 restricts an employee from engaging in outside employment or any other outside activity which is “not compatible with the full and proper discharge of his or her duties and responsibilities as a government employee.”  Further, a government employee is prohibited from “engaging in any outside employment, private business activity, or other interest which may interfere with the employee’s ability to perform his or her job, or which may impair efficient operation of the District of Columbia government.”  18 D.P.M. § 1804.1(a).  Your status as a Commissioner could be construed as “other interest.”

Based on the limited information available to us, there is no evidence that your employment in the Office of the Mayor resulted from the use of your official position [as a Commissioner] to obtain such employment.  Therefore, it is the opinion of the Office of Campaign Finance that there is no apparent conflict of interest presented by your simultaneous service to these entities.