Understanding Ethics & Conflict of Interest Codes

IV. Understanding Ethics/ Conflict of Interest Codes

State and local conflict of interest laws are complex and should be studied carefully by those to whom they apply. Board of Supervisor's appointees are required to become familiar with State and local ethics requirements by viewing the County training video, "Ethics Orientation for County Officials."

In addition to the training video, the following materials should be reviewed by new appointees and committee staff, and consulted as necessary to ensure compliance with all State and local ethics requirements at all times:

⟐Resources for Understanding Ethics and Conflict of Interest Codes:

Appendix 12: Board of Supervisors Resolution 2002/376:
"Policies Concerning Conflict of Interest and Open Meetings"
Appendix 13: Office of County Counsel: "Conflict of Interest Codes" (training slides)
Appendix 14: FPPC Pamphlet: "Can I Vote?" (guidelines for recusal)
Appendix 15: FPPC Contact Information (for questions about completing Form 700)
Appendix 16: Samples of Form 700 and Biennial Notice form

1. Local Ethics Requirements

Resolution 2002/376, "Policy for Board Appointees Concerning Conflict of Interest and Open Meetings," (Appendix 12) describes the Board of Supervisor's policy concerning conflict of interest and open meeting requirements. One of the most important provisions cited in the resolution is the "common law" principle that all appointees "should so conduct the public business as to avoid even any appearance of conflict of interest."

Advisory committees established at the discretion of the Board of Supervisors do not ordinarily have Conflict of Interest Codes, and members of such advisory committees therefore are not usually required to disclose related financial interests on Form 700. Nonetheless, as a general rule (as stated in Board Resolution 2002/376), advisory committee and Municipal Advisory Council members must identify and disclose any of their personal financial interests that could be affected if the Board of Supervisors were to approve the committee's advisory recommendations. Committee members should also elect not to participate (recuse themselves) if they hold personal financial interests which would be affected by any formal recommendation made by the committee.


⟐Recusal to Avoid a Conflict of Interest

The Office of County Counsel has developed the following guidelines for any committee member who has financial interests that could potentially create a conflict of interest:

Public Identification of a Conflict-of-Interest: Procedure to Recuse Oneself

Publicly (orally) identify the financial interest that gives rise to the conflict of interest, or potential conflict-of-interest, in detail sufficient to be understood by the public. This public identification must be made part of the official public record (i.e. the meeting minutes).

State each type of economic interest held (i.e. investment, business position, interest in real property, personal financial effect, or the receipt or promise of income or gifts) which is involved in the decision and gives rise to the conflict of interest.

Recuse yourself from discussing and voting on the matter after public identification of the conflict-of-interest has been provided. You shall not be counted toward achieving a quorum while the item is discussed.

Leave the room before the discussion of the item until after the discussion, vote, and any other disposition of the matter is concluded, unless the matter has been placed on the portion of the agenda reserved for *uncontested matters (i.e. it is not necessary to leave the room if the conflict-of-interest item is listed on the Consent calendar).

2. California Political Reform Act of 1974

⟐Conflict of Interest Codes

Government officials in California who participate in making decisions (as defined under the law and in related regulations) are required to comply with conflict of interest and financial disclosure requirements that were enacted through the California Political Reform Act of 1974 (now Title 9, Chapter 7, Article 3 of the California Government Code).

Among the requirements of the California Political Reform Act are the following:

 Government officials and employees who have -- or may have -- a financial interest in an issue may not participate in decisions in which their financial interest could be affected.

 Government officials and employees who make or participate in making decisions (as defined under the law) must file annual financial disclosure statements (Form 700) that are related to the positions in which they serve. The disclosure documents are public records. Information about filing requirements should be addressed to the committee staff.

 The officials or employees who must file financial disclosure statements (based on their position) and the types of financial interests that each official is required to disclose, are outlined in each agency's "Conflict of Interest Code."

 Every agency having a Conflict of Interest Code must prepare and file a "Biannual Notice" at least once every two years to make any needed changes and bring the Conflict of Interest Code up to date. Any changes must be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Additional guidance prepared by County Counsel's Office for managing Conflict of Interest Codes is presented in Appendix 13. All committee liaisons should become familiar with the administrative requirements for Conflict of Interest Codes presented in Appendix 13.

Appointee responsibilities

Board of Supervisor's appointees to boards commissions and committees are required to become familiar with the requirements of the California Political Reform Act by viewing the County training video, "Ethics Orientation for County Officials."

To ensure compliance with California's Political Reform Act of 1974, each appointee to any board, commission or committee in Contra Costa County should determine in consultation with committee staff whether the committee has a Conflict of Interest Code and whether the committee member is required to file a financial disclosure statement (Form 700).

Staff responsibilities

One of the most important functions of committee staff is to review the committee's Conflict of Interest Code (if one exists) at least once every two years. The "biannual review" is conducted either to identify changes that are needed to the Conflict of Interest Code, or to certify that no changes are necessary. Any proposed changes to the Conflict of Interest Code must be approved by the Board of Supervisors in order to take effect.

All county staff liaisons to committees that have Conflict of Interest Codes must understand the components of the codes and how to prepare the required Biennial Notice. The administrative requirements for managing the Conflict of Interest Code are summarized in Appendix 13 based on information provided by Office of County Counsel.
Brief Summary of Ethics Requirements

State and local conflict of interest requirements are complex but are described in detail in the required video training program entitled, "Ethics Orientation for County Officials." This video is one of the two training videos that the County requires all committee appointees to view within 90 days of appointment. All committee members should avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest even when the committee's decisions are advisory. Committee members should recuse themselves from decisions (i.e. choose not to participate) if they have a financial interest that would be affected by the decision or recommendation. Committee members who participate in making decisions are required to be included in the agency's Conflict of Interest Code and to file Form 700, financial disclosure statement, annually. Committee staff are required to review the content of the committee's Conflict of Interest code at least every two years and to submit a report to the filing officer (Clerk of the Board of Supervisor).

Questions concerning these requirements should be submitted to the committee's County staff liaison or (by staff) to Office of County Counsel.

Questions concerning how to complete Form 700 should be directed to the Fair Political Practices Commission. FPPC contact information appears in Appendix 15.