Conflict of Interest and Ethics Policy

 
CITY OF SOUTH BURLINGTON CONFLICT OF INTEREST AND ETHICS POLICY

CITY OF SOUTH BURLINGTON CONFLICT OF INTEREST AND ETHICS POLICY
FOR ELECTED AND APPOINTED OFFICIALS

Article 1. Authority. Under the authority granted in 24 V.S.A. § 2291(20) and pursuant to 24
V.S.A. § 1984, the City of South Burlington hereby adopts the following policy concerning
conflicts of interest and ethical conduct.

Article 2. Purpose. The purpose of this policy is to ensure that the business of this municipality
will be conducted in such a way that no public officer of the municipality will gain a personal or
financial advantage from his or her work for the municipality and so that the public trust in its
officers will be preserved. It is also the intent of this policy to ensure that all decisions made by
public officers are based on the best interests of the municipality.

Article 3. Application. This policy applies to all individuals elected or statutorily-appointed to
perform executive, administrative, legislative, or quasi-judicial functions of the City of South
Burlington. This includes City Council members and all appointed committee members or
trustees. As of the date of adoption of this policy, the City’s public bodies are:

  • City Council
  • Housing Trust Fund Committee
  • Affordable Housing Committee
  • Library Board of Trustees
  • Board of Abatement
  • Natural Resources Committee
  • Board of Civil Authority (BCA)
  • Pension Advisory Committee (PAC)
  • Economic Development Committee
  • Planning Commission
  • City Charter Committee
  • Public Art Selection Committee
  • Dog Park Committee
  • Recreation & Parks Committee
  • Development Review Board (DRB)
  • Energy Committee
Article 4. Definitions. For the purposes of this policy, the following definitions shall apply:

A. Conflict of interest means any of the following:

       1. A real or seeming incompatibility between a public officer’s private interests and his or
her public or fiduciary interests to the municipality he or she serves. A conflict of interest
arises when there is a direct or indirect personal or financial interest of a public officer or
a person or group closely tied with the officer including his or her spouse, household
member, child, stepchild, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, aunt or uncle, brother or
sister-in-law, business associate, or employer or employee in the outcome of an
official act or action, or any other matter pending before the officer or before the public
body in which the public officer holds office. A conflict of interest may take any of the
four following forms:
               a. A direct financial conflict of interest arises when a public officer acts on a matter
                   that has a direct financial impact on that officer.
               b. An indirect financial conflict of interest arises when a public officer acts on a
                   matter that has a financial impact on a person or group closely tied to the officer.
               c. A direct personal conflict of interest arises when a public officer acts on a matter
                   that has a direct impact on the officer in a non-financial way but is of significant
                   importance to the officer.
               d. An indirect personal conflict of interest arises when a public officer acts on a
                  matter in which the officer’s judgment may be affected because of a familial or
                  personal relationship or membership in some organization and a desire to help
                  that person or organization further its own interests.

     2. A situation where a public officer has publicly displayed a prejudgment of the merits of a
        particular quasi-judicial proceeding. This shall not apply to a member’s particular
        political views or general opinion on a given issue.

     3. A situation where a public officer has not disclosed ex parte communication(s) related to
         a quasi-judicial proceeding that is before the body to which that officer belongs.

     A "conflict of interest" does not arise in the case of an official act or action in which the
     public officer has a personal or financial interest in the outcome, such as in the establishment
     of a tax rate, that is no greater than that of other persons generally affected by the decision.

B. Emergency means an imminent threat or peril to the public health, safety, or welfare.

C. Ex Parte Communication means direct or indirect communication between a member of a
public body and any party, party’s representative, party’s counsel or any person interested in
the outcome of a quasi-judicial proceeding, that occurs outside the proceeding and concerns
the substance or merits of the proceeding.

D. Official act or action means any legislative, administrative or quasi-judicial act performed
by any public officer while acting on behalf of the municipality. This term does not apply to
ministerial acts or actions wherein no discretionary judgment is exercised.

E. Public body means any board, council, commission, or committee of the municipality.

F. Public interest means an interest of the municipality, conferred generally upon all residents
of the municipality.

G. Public officer means a person elected or statutorily-appointed to perform executive,
administrative, legislative, or quasi-judicial functions for the municipality. Public officer
does not mean municipal employees covered under the city’s personnel rules and regulations.

H. Quasi-judicial proceeding means a case in which the legal rights of one or more persons
who are granted party status are adjudicated, which is conducted in such a way that all parties
have opportunities to present evidence and to cross-examine witnesses presented by other
parties, and which results in a written decision, the result of which is appealable by a party to
a higher authority.

Article 5. Prohibited Conduct.
A. A public officer shall not participate in any official act or action if he or she has a conflict of
interest, whether real or perceived, in the matter under consideration.

B. A public officer shall not personally – or through any member of his or her household,
business associate, employer or employee – represent, appear for, or negotiate in a private
capacity on behalf of any person or organization that has an interest in an official act or
action pending before the public body in which the public officer holds office.

C. A public officer shall not accept gifts or other offerings for personal gain by virtue of his or
her public office that are not available to the public in general.

D. A public officer will not request or accept any reward, gift, or favor for taking an official act
or action or advocating for or against an official act or action.

E. A public officer shall not use resources unavailable to the general public – including but not
limited to municipal staff time, equipment, supplies, or facilities – for private gain or
personal purposes.

F. A public officer who is a member of a public body shall not give the impression that he or
she has the authority to make decisions or take actions on behalf of that body.

Article 6. Disclosure. A public officer who, while serving on a public body, may have a conflict
of interest, whether real or perceived, in a matter under consideration by that public body shall,
prior to taking an official act or action or participating in any official act or action on the matter,
publicly disclose at a public meeting or public hearing that he or she has an actual or perceived
conflict of interest in the matter under consideration and disclose the nature of the actual or
perceived conflict of interest. Alternatively, a public officer may request that another public
officer recuse him or herself from a matter due to a conflict of interest, whether real or
perceived.1

Article 7. Consideration of Recusal. Once there has been a disclosure of an actual or perceived
conflict of interest, other public officers shall be afforded an opportunity to ask questions or
make comments about the situation. If a previously unknown conflict is discovered during a
meeting or hearing conducted by a public body of the municipality, the public body shall take
evidence pertaining to the conflict and, if appropriate, adjourn to an executive session to address
the conflict.

Article 8. Recusal.
A. Recusal of Appointed and Elected Officers. After taking the actions listed in Articles 6 and
     7, a public officer, whether appointed or elected, shall declare whether he or she will recuse
     him or herself and explain the basis for that decision. If the public officer has an actual or
     perceived conflict of interest but believes that he or she is able to act fairly, objectively, and
     in the public interest, in spite of the conflict, he or she shall state why he or she believes that
     he or she is able to act in the matter fairly, objectively, and in the public interest.2 Otherwise,
     the public officer shall recuse him or herself from the matter under consideration. A public
     officer that recuses him or herself may, but not must, explain the basis for that decision.

B. Recusal of Appointed Officers. The failure of an appointed public officer to recuse himself
or herself in spite of a conflict of interest, whether real or perceived, may be grounds for
discipline or removal from office.3

Article 9. Recording. The minutes of the meeting or the written decision / minutes from the
meeting / hearing shall document the actions taken in Articles 6 through 8.

Article 10. Post-Recusal Procedure.

A. A public officer who has recused himself or herself from participating in an official act or
action by a public body shall not sit with the public body, deliberate with the public body, or
participate in the discussions about that official act or action in any manner in his or her
capacity as a public officer, though such member may still participate as a member of the
public or private party, if applicable.

B. The public body may adjourn the proceedings to a time, date, and place certain if, after a
recusal, it may not be possible to take action through the concurrence of a majority of the
total membership of the public body. The public body may then resume the proceeding with
sufficient members present.

Article 11. Enforcement.

A. Enforcement Against Elected Officers; Consequences for Failure to Follow the Conflict
     of Interest Procedures. In cases in which an elected public officer has engaged in any of the
     prohibited conduct listed in Article 5, or has not followed the conflict of interest procedures
     in Articles 6 through 10, the City of South Burlington City Council may, in its discretion,
     take any of the following disciplinary actions against such elected officer as it deems
     appropriate:

1. The chair of the City of South Burlington City Council may meet informally with the public officer to discuss the possible conflict of interest violation. This.shall not take place in situations where the chair and the public officer together constitute a quorum of a public body.
2. The City of South Burlington City Council may meet to discuss the conduct of the public officer. Executive session may be used for such discussion in accordance with 1 V.S.A. § 313(a)( 4). The public officer may request that this meeting occur in public. If appropriate, the City of South Burlington City Council may admonish the offending public officer in private.
3. The City of South Burlington City Council may admonish the offending public officer at an open meeting and reflect this action in the minutes of the meeting. The public officer shall be given the opportunity to respond to the admonishment.
4. Upon majority vote in an open meeting, the City of South Burlington City Council may request (but not order) that the offending public officer resign from his or her office.

B.  Enforcement Against Appointed Officers. The City of South Burlington City Council may choose to follow any of the steps articulated in Article 11 A. In addition to or in lieu of any of those steps, the City of South Burlington City Council may choose to remove an appointed officer from office, subject to state law.

Article 12. Exception. The recusal provisions of Article 8 shall not apply if the City of South Burlington City Council determines that an emergency exists or that actions of a quasi-judicial public body otherwise could not take place. In such a case, a public officer who has reason to believe he or she has a conflict of interest shall only be required to disclose such conflict as provided in Article 6.

Article 13. Effective Date. This policy shall become effective immediately upon its adoption by the City of South Burlington City Council.

Date Signed
Dec. 3, 2018
By City Council Members:

  • Helen Riehle
  • Meaghan Emery
  • Tom Chittenden
  • Tim Barritt
  • David Kaufman


1. Such request shall not be considered an order for the officer to recuse him or herself.
2.Each member of an elected public body is independently elected and answers only to the voters. Therefore,
unless there is a local ordinance or charter provision that states otherwise, the remaining members of the body
may not force recusal. They may only express their opinion about the subject and/or privately or publicly
admonish a fellow member who fails to handle conflicts appropriately.
3.
Certain appointed public officers such as members of the Development Review Board may only be removed forcause and after being afforded with procedural due process protections including notice and a reasonable opportunity to be heard.