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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

The Academy for New York State's Local Officials

Protecting the Public’s Interest: A Tutorial on Local Government Ethics and Transparency in New York State

Module 2 - Codes of Ethics and Other Local Actions

Text for Video - Required Posting of the Law and Applicable Common Law

In this last segment, I want to talk about circumstances in which Article 18 of the General Municipal Law or your local code of ethics do not apply. However, the action may still violate the spirit or intent of the statute, may be in conflict with public policy, or suggest self-dealing partiality or economic impropriety. In these circumstances, the courts will look at the action on a case-by-case basis and hold the official to the standard of a trustee. What does this mean? It means that where there’s a reasonable possibility that the individual voted in terms of a private interest rather than in the interest of public, the courts will not hesitate to invalidate the action. Usually one runs across these types of situations in land use management in which a decisive vote was cast by somebody who had an interest in the outcome. Some examples of this could be a situation where there is a board member who cast a tie-breaking vote on a variance in which they were co-owners of the property and which the variance was sought. Also, there was a large utility project in which two board members voted for the approval of the project although they were also employees of the corporation. Also, there was a situation for an approval of a subdivision in which one of the board members who voted for the approval owned an advertising firm in which they were aware that, should the subdivision be approved, they were going to receive a large advertising contract.

This is not to suggest that every claimed conflict of interest is going to result in the courts invalidating the action. Where the claimed conflict of interest is speculative, attenuated, or de minimus, the courts will not invalidate the action. However, if you find yourself in one of these situations, the safest course of action is to not discuss the matter or be involved in voting on the matter. Also, you can always reach out to your municipal attorney or your local board of ethics.

At this time, I would like to thank you for taking the time to listen to this presentation on Article 18. Again, should you have any questions or concerns after watching this presentation, I strongly encourage you reach out to you local municipal attorney or your local board of ethics. Thank you.

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