Opinion 89-20


This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.


CONFLICTS OF INTEREST -- Codes of Ethics (town's code not applicable to fire district officers and employees) -- Board of Ethics (town board of ethics may not act with respect to fire district officers and employees)

GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, §§806, 808: A town's code of ethics does not apply to officers and employees of a fire district located within the town. A town's board of ethics may not act with respect to officers and employees of a fire district located within the town.

We are in receipt of your letter concerning the town's code of ethics. You state that copies of this code were sent to the fire district. You further state that the town has established a board of ethics, but has not established specific procedures for submitting questions to this board. On behalf of the fire district, you ask what procedures would be appropriate.

Initially, we note that it is our policy not to render opinions to officials of one municipality with respect to the powers and duties of another municipality. Accordingly, in responding to your inquiry, we cannot comment upon the procedures that may be considered by the town in its efforts to implement the town's code of ethics. It appears appropriate, however, to discuss the effect of a town's board of ethics and code of ethics on fire district officers and employees, and a fire district's general authority with respect to these matters.

General Municipal Law, §806 requires each county, city, town, village and school district to adopt a code of ethics setting forth for the guidance of its officers and employees the standards of conduct reasonably expected of them. Fire districts are authorized, but not required, to adopt codes of ethics for the guidance of fire district officers and employees. Since a fire district is a separate municipality for purposes of section 806 (General Municipal Law, §800[4]; see also Town Law, §174[6]), a town's code of ethics does not govern the activities of fire district officials. Therefore, we believe the fire district should adopt a separate code of ethics for fire district officers and employees.

Section 808 of the General Municipal Law relates to the establishment of municipal boards of ethics. That section authorizes any county to establish a county board of ethics to render advisory opinions to officers and employees of municipalities, including fire districts, wholly or partly within the county, with respect to article 18 of the General Municipal Law and any local code of ethics. These opinions must be rendered pursuant to a written request of any such officer or employee under such rules andregulations as the board may prescribe. In rendering opinions, the board is entitled to the advice of counsel employed by the board or, if none, the county attorney (General Municipal Law, §808[2]).

Subdivision 3 of section 808 authorizes the governing body of any municipality other than a county, including towns and fire districts, to establish a local board of ethics. Such a local board would have all the powers and duties and be governed by the same conditions as a county board of ethics. Therefore, the local board would render advisory opinions pursuant to written request of the municipality's officers and employees, under rules and regulations as it may prescribe, and shall have the advice of counsel. However, the local board may act only with respect to officers and employees of that municipality. Thus, a town board of ethics may act only with respect to town officers and employees, and a fire district board of ethics may act only with respect to fire district officers and employees. If both local and county boards of ethics are established, the county board of ethics may not act with respect to the officers and employees of any municipality located within the county which has its own board of ethics unless the local board, at its option, refers a matter to the county board of ethics (General Municipal Law, §808[4]).

May 19, 1989
Stephen A. Tiska, Treasurer
Town of Masonville