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Interpretative Opinion 96-07: Conflict of Interest

May 16, 1996

Charlotte Brookins-Hudson, General Counsel
Office of the General Counsel
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20004

Re: Conflict of Interest

Dear Ms. Brookins-Hudson:

This responds to your request for an opinion concerning whether a conflict of interest may exist for Chairman David Clarke in view of an appeal he filed in his personal capacity with the Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals (BRPAA) given his  introduction in the DC Council of Bill 11-577, “The District of Columbia Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals Membership Qualification Act of 1996.”  You state that Chairman Clarke filed an appeal with BRPAA challenging a recent real property tax assessment on his residence prior to introducing the legislation.  You further state that nominees currently serving as acting members of BRPAA would be involved in resolution of the appeal of his residential real property tax assessment.  Additionally, you advised that the DC Council Committee of the Whole was scheduled to consider Mayoral nominations to BRPAA on May 14, 1996.

DC Code § 1-1461(b) provides that “[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.  This subsection shall not affect a vote by a public official: (1) on any matter that affects a class of persons (such a class shall include no less than 50 persons) of which such public official is a member if the financial gain to be realized is de minimus . . .”.

Our review of Bill 11-577 indicates that it establishes a specific numerical configuration of experienced legal, real estate, accounting and banking professionals who will comprise the 18-member BRPAA.  Further, it should be noted that BRPAA members serve 5-year terms ( DC Code § 47-825.1(a)(3)(A)); and receive compensation for their services ( DC Code § 47-825.1(a)(5)).

As Chairman of the District’s legislative branch of government, it is clearly within Mr. Clarke’s purview to introduce and vote on laws affecting the citizens of the District of Columbia, a class of more than 50 persons of which he is a member.  However, the Chairman’s proposed law designates the types of persons who will serve on the BRPAA, such persons who necessarily must rely on the Chairman and his colleagues for confirmation; and such persons who, after confirmation, must decide the Chairman’s real property tax assessment appeal which directly affects his financial interests.  Further, one may reasonably infer that the Chairman’s financial interests in this matter are not de minimus or inconsequential by virtue of his exercise of his right to file an appeal.

Based on the foregoing, it is our opinion that Chairman Clarke has a potential conflict of interest relative to this matter.  Therefore, we strongly suggest that the Chairman remove himself from further influence over this matter and follow the applicable recusal procedures in DC Code § 1-1461(g).