Education

Conflicts of Interest

Key Goal: Identify, Disclose and Recuse
What is most fundamental about a conflict of interest is that employees and officials understand how to identify when a conflict exists and what to do. The below information provides you the tools to stay within the ethical requirements of the County.

A conflict of interest is when the personal or financial interests of an official or employee could influence the decisions or actions the employee takes on behalf of DeKalb County. There is nothing wrong with an employee or an official having a personal or financial interest that conflicts with the interests of the County.  What is improper is when the official or employee acts on that conflict to the detriment of the County.  That is, when the official or employee makes decisions or takes actions which are not in the best interests of the County, but instead are in the self- interest of that employee or official.   This is called self-dealing. All DeKalb County officials and employees serve the County citizens.   All official decisions and actions made by employees and officials must be based solely on what best serves the County’s interest without regard to personal or financial interests.
A conflict of interest exists when an employee or official has a personal or financial interest that could conflict with the interests or the business of the County. A financial interest is any interest that generates a monetary or other material benefit.  A financial interest can be either a direct or an indirect interest.  It is direct if it benefits the employee or official himself.  A financial interest is indirect if the monetary or material interest benefits a close family member, an employer or prospective employer, a business in which the employee or official or a family member is an owner, director or partner. A personal interest is a benefit that results from a close personal relationship regardless of whether any financial interest is involved.  The personal relationships to which we are referring are:
  • Immediate Family Member (sister, brother, wife, husband, cousin, in-law, aunt, uncle, etc).
  • business, partnership or corporate associations
County business could include a proposed County contract, proposed ordinance or any matter before the DeKalb Commission or a DeKalb Board.  County business also includes any work performed by a DeKalb County employee in the performance of their duty.
  1. Your property is adjacent to a County park. As a part of your job you become involved in making decisions about improvements to that park that could increase the property values of the residential homes adjacent to the park – including yours.  Due to the potential increase in your own property values you may have a conflict between your own personal financial interests and that of the County.  You should inform your supervisor and you should be removed from projects which develop or maintain that park.
  2. As part of your job you review bids from contractors who work with the County and you know what it takes to draft a successful bid with the County. You think it would be a great idea to earn extra money by providing consulting services to contractors on how to draft successful bids with the County.  You have a conflict because your outside work could influence your relationships with contractors who are both your personal clients and contractors of the County.
  3. You or a family member owns part of a local company that is bidding on a project with the County. You cannot participate in any discussion or vote regarding hiring the contractor for that project or additions to the work once hired.   If you are an employee, you cannot work on that project in any capacity.  If you are an official, you must not take any official act, involve yourself in any discussion or attempt to influence others in any way with respect to that contractor.
*In all of the above scenarios, an employee or official should complete an online conflict form.
  1. A family member or friend owns a company that is bidding on a project with DeKalb County. If you will be working with your friend or family member’s company on the project or have any influence in deciding who is awarded the project, you have a personal interest that conflicts with the interest of the County.  This is true even if you have no financial interest in the company bidding on the project.  You should remove yourself or ask your supervisor to remove you from any work or decision making related to that project.
  2. The Watershed division learns that an inspector has hired the daughter of the employee who gives final approval to permit applications. The department moves the employee to a new position where she will have no role in approving permits submitted by her daughter.
  3. The son of a human resources specialist applies for a position in HR. The specialist is removed from the hiring process.
*In all of the above scenarios, an employee or official should complete an online conflict form.
Identify, Disclose and Recuse Remember, it is not wrong to have a conflict, but it is wrong to act on it. If an official or employee does have a personal or financial interest that conflicts with a County interest, the employee or official is disqualified from making any decisions or taking any actions with respect to that County matter. All conflicts should be disclosed to the County.  When an employee becomes aware that he has a personal or financial interest in a County project or contract within his division, a conflict exists.   The conflict must then be disclosed to the County.  The disclosure must be made even if the employee is not involved in the project or contract because the Code requires all County employees and officials to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  If a conflict is properly disclosed and the employee or official removes herself from involvement with the project or contract, the appearance of impropriety is avoided. County Officials and Board Members County officials and Board members who have a financial or personal interest in any County business pending before them or any matter that might involve an official act, should decline to participate in any discussion, consideration or vote on the matter.  The official or board member should file the online conflicts disclosure form and inform others who are involved in the matter that a conflict prevents them from acting on or discussing the matter. An official or board member should have the disclosure placed in the minutes of the meeting or the agency's official records. If the official is uncertain as to whether a conflict exists, the official or employee should request an Advisory Opinion from the Board of Ethics.  The Ethics Officer is also available to give informal advice. Employees Employees who have a financial or personal interest in a matter that involves work before their division or agency should immediately discuss the conflict with their supervisor and the supervisor should transfer the matter to another employee.  The employee should also file the online conflict form. If the employee or supervisor is uncertain as to whether a conflict exists, the employee should request advice from the Ethics Officer or request an Advisory Opinion from the Board of Ethics. These above information gives only general guidance about conflicts, when they exist and what steps should be taken to avoid a conflict.  The best course to take is always to ask the Ethics Officer for advice.
Vendors, Suppliers and Contractors Employees The County is involved in purchasing services from hundreds of vendors, suppliers and contractors.  A conflict of interest can arise when a County official or employee has a personal or financial interest with respect to a vendor, supplier or contractor. Remember, a personal or financial interest includes an interest held by any of the following: the employee himself, a close family member, an employer or prospective employer, a business in which the employee or family member is an owner, director or partner. What to do:  If a conflict arises, the employee has done nothing wrong, but he must advise his supervisor and complete an online conflict form.  The supervisor should remove the employee from any work involving the contractor, vendor or supplier. Officials or Board Members County officials or Board Members may not participate, advise or influence any decisions related to a contract, subcontract, contract solicitation, or contract proposal in which they know or should know that a financial of personal interest is held by any of the following:  The official himself, a close family member, an employer or prospective employer, a business in which the official or family member is an owner, director or partner. What to do:  The official or board member should file an online conflicts disclosure form and inform others who are involved in the matter that a conflict prevents them from acting on or discussing the matter. An official or board member should have the disclosure placed in the minutes of the meeting or the agency's official records.
  1. A County Commissioner may not use her budget to hire her sister’s firm to provide web design services to the Commissioner’s office.Note Think about this issue broadly.  Even if you hire a friend and not a family member, the appearance may be one of a conflict.   So, if an official or an employee hires a friend or partner as a web designer, but there are more qualified web designers for the specific purpose - the perception will be of a personal conflict.  In other words, the employee or commissioner has put their personal interests above that of the County.
  • An employee from Watershed Management applies for a job with a DeKalb contractor working on a new sewage management site. While his application is under consideration, he may not review, monitor, or oversee the project at the new sewage management site. He needs to notify his supervisor and have his work reassigned.
Gifts, Meals and Gratuities

Why are gifts in business and government so strictly regulated?  The answer is both the appearance and the conflict.  The DeKalb Ethics Code states that an employee or official cannot “By his or conduct give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or her or unduly enjoy his or her favour …” Gifts almost automatically give the appearance of tainting a relationship – regardless of the sincerity of either party.  Why?  Because those on the outside will assume that a gift creates a conflict of interest.  It doesn’t matter that the gift doesn’t influence your judgment as to what is right for the County – the gift gives the appearance that your judgement has been influenced.

A gift is anything of monetary value such as a meal, discount, a trip, tickets for entertainment, or a personal item.  Services provided are also gifts.  Services can include training, transportation, or lodging.
This is a tricky area, so please bring questions to the Ethics Officer if you are unsure.  Even when a meal or gift is not strictly prohibited, it is generally discouraged.  Ask yourself, is this meal or gift worth the scrutiny?
The DeKalb Code strictly prohibits any gift from a Prohibited Source.  A Prohibited Source means any person or entity who:
  • Is currently seeking official action by you (employee or official) or your department.   This could also be an attorney, citizen or contractor who is seeking a decision from your Board or who is about to appear before your Board.
  • Does business or seeks to do business with the County or the employee’s department. This could be a contractor, vendor or supplier who has submitted a bid under an RFP or who has given your division a bid for services or products.
  • Regulated by your department. This could be a retailer, restaurant, or service provider who needs a permit, must pass an inspection or needs your department’s approval or permission to continue to run their business.
The DeKalb Code permits nominal gifts of $40 from one source at any one time so long as the source is not a Prohibited Source.  This means that the Code permits a vendor to purchase a meal if the vendor  does not have business before your division.  If you are an official, this means that it is not prohibited for you to accept a gift of $40 or less so long as there is no official request before the County by that person or no contract or agreement regarding that person or company. A good rule of thumb is to avoid having business meetings outside the office around meal times.  If it is not necessary to have the meeting around a meal (such as at an all day conference), then take the meeting in the office.  If you have to be at lunch with outside vendors, ask to pay for your own meal.   Ask yourself, is this meal worth the scrutiny?
If you cannot accept the gift then you cannot accept it on someone’s behalf.
Yes, you can bring home schwag – as long as it’s under $40.  Schwag are promotional items given out at conferences or meetings.  They are typically items such as cups, pens and small desk toys.
Outside Employment for Employees
A DeKalb County  employee can accept outside employment if it does not conflict with your DeKalb employment or position.  It is the employee’s responsibility to inform his or her supervisor about any outside employment and determine if a conflict or potential conflict exists.  If you have any questions, please contact the Ethics Officer for advice. There are many ways outside employment can conflict with your position in DeKalb.  The following are a few examples of conflicts which arise from outside work:
  • Division of loyalty or a personal conflict
  • Outside work for a County Vendor
  • Disclosure of Confidential Information
  • Use of County time to perform outside work
  • Use of County resources to perform outside work
  • Financial incentive that conflicts with your position in DeKalb County
Working for a County Vendor has the potential of bringing up multiple conflicts and is almost never appropriate. First, working for a County Vendor allows the vendor special access to a County employee which could lead to pressuring or persuading the employee to advocate the best interests of the vendor over the County.   Employees may feel pressure to do what is best for the County Vendor in order to keep their outside position with the vendor – such as, trying to get additional work for the County Vendor, giving the County Vendor special access to other County officials or employees which other vendors might not have, advocating that the County Vendor receive work that other vendors are not receiving. Do not forget that it is not only the actions of the employee or official that may be a violation of the Ethics Code, but it is also a violation to give “reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or her or unduly enjoy his or her favor in the performance of his or her official acts or actions or that he or she is affected unduly by … association with any person.”
This is another situation with lots of conflict potential.  First, you should inform your supervisor and disclose the conflict.  You and your supervisor must determine if a potential conflict exists.  If your outside employer is awarded the contract, you should leave your outside employment.  Always seek advice from the Ethics Officer if there any questions.
Employees and officials may not disclose confidential information of the County and may not use County information for personal gain. Ensure that you are never disclosing County information to assist you in your outside employment or gaining outside employment. It is a violation of the Ethics Code and a violation of the DeKalb Personnel Code.
Use of any County resources for outside work – even after regular business hours - is not allowed. Simply because you have stayed after hours to perform outside work does not give an employee or official the right to use County resources in support of their outside work. This includes copiers, computers, office supplies, office space for meetings or any other County resource.
All employees are expected to give a full days’ work for a full days’ pay.  Refrain from any outside work while you are doing your job for the County.  Also, think of the impression you make with your fellow employees when you are taking outside work calls at a time you should be giving your attention to your County work. *Remember – it is your responsibility to ensure your supervisor is informed of any outside work that you perform.
Outside Employment for Elected Officials and Board Members

A DeKalb County official or board member can accept outside employment if it does not conflict with with his or her DeKalb official position.  Elected officials and board members have a special fiduciary responsibility to determine if a conflict or potential conflict exists.  If a DeKalb official or board member believes a potential conflict exists, the Board member or official should seek advice through an Advisory Opinion request to the Board of Ethics.  He or she should acknowledge the potential conflict on the official record or minutes of the Board or the Commission (whichever applies) and recuse himself or herself from voting on the specific matter until final advice from the Board has been issued.  If you have any questions, please contact the Ethics Officer for advice.

There are many ways outside employment can conflict with an official’s position in DeKalb.  The following are a few examples of conflicts which arise from outside work:

  • Division of loyalty or a personal conflict
  • Outside work for a County Vendor
  • Disclosure of Confidential Information
  • Financial incentive that conflicts with your position in DeKalb County
Raffles and Convention Gifts

Can you accept a gift from a raffle sponsored by a vendor at a convention?  Generally no, but use the gift guidelines to determine the answer.  First, if the raffle is sponsored by a prohibited source then you cannot accept a prize from the raffle.  Second, if the prize from the raffle is more than $40, then you cannot accept the prize either.