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Ethics and conflicts of interest for county and district officials

the public trust and reduction of the temptation to breach. Tese laws come into play when an officeholder or his immediate family member conducts business with the county and when a person files to run or hold office or to fulfill board appointment. Addi- tionally, there are prohibited activities addressed under ACA 21- 8-304 that apply to all public officers and employees. A prudent county official should learn these provisions of code and the infor- mation and resources in this article.

T Breach of Public Trust

ACA 14-14-1202(a) prohibits an officer or employee from us- ing his office or position for personal gain or the benefit of an im- mediate family member/ associate. Te Attorney General recently expounded on the scope of county ethics provisions under ACA 14-14-1202, and indicated that provisions prohibiting procure- ment of special privileges or exemptions for “immediate family” likely means person within the first degree of relationship. Te AG also explained that a county officer or employee is in a position of public trust and is prohibited from being interested in a contract in furtherance of his personal economic and individual interests. He noted that such contracts are generally unenforceable (AG Opinion 2013-134). ACA 14-14-1202(A)(i) states, “No officer shall either directly,

in any contract or transaction made, authorized or entered into on behalf of the county or an entity created by the county, or accept or receive any property, money, or other valuable thing for his or her use or benefit on account of, connected with, or growing out of any contract or transaction of a community.” Additionally, all pur- chases for the county will be for “the benefit of the county” only. It is unlawful for any officer or employee to accept or retain them for his or her own use or benefit. See ACA 14-14-1202(A)(ii)(b). Te law allows for the quorum court to address “unusual cir- cumstances” by virtue of a transparent ordinance finding unusual circumstances obtained by a two-thirds supermajority vote of the quorum court. See ACA 14-14-1202(c). It is best to bring these matters to the quorum court so they can approve, ratify or reject any issues and make a determination of whether a circumstance is in the best interest of the county and truly unusual. An example of a contractual relationship that was enough to

create a conflict of interest can be found in AG Opinion 2002- 327. Te question presented was whether a justice of the peace who owned a company could perform dirt work for a new county library building. Te AG concluded that it was a clear conflict of interest for a quorum court member to perform contractual servic- es for the county, even if the service was indirectly performed as a subcontractor. Te AG even said that if the justice of the peace re- signs, he or she would still be unable to complete the work because


his article will cover a variety of provisions of the Arkansas Code setting forth ethics and conflicts of interest laws for county and district officials and em- ployees. Tese laws are based upon avoiding breach of

the resignation “would not cure the impropriety” and the official “would continue to benefit from an improp- erly negotiated contract.”

An example of a personal benefit not sufficient to create a conflict of interest can be found in AG Opinion 2000- 302. Te question in the opinion was whether a justice of the peace, who was also a practicing attorney, could spon- sor ordinances benefiting the court system in which he or she practiced. Te AG concluded that unless it could be proven that the benefit conferred was substantial and narrowly focused on their personal economic interest, there would be no con- flict of interest. Te AG also stated that benefits affecting a class are not ordinarily sufficient to constitute a conflict of interest.

Kevin liang Law Clerk

Right to Run and Hold Office Te AG recently explained that a county personnel policy may

not require county employees to vacate their position before filing for elective office. See AG Opinion 2013-142. Te AG explained that in 1997 the General Assembly enacted ACA 21-1-207, which explicitly provides, “No employee of the state, municipality, a school district, or any other political subdivision of this state shall be de- prived of his or her right to run as a candidate for an elective office or to express his or her opinion on political subjects, unless necessary to meet the requirements of federal law.” AG Opinions 99-155 and 98-084 likewise cite ACA 21-1-207 and support the same conclu- sion. Arkansas law generally protects the right to run for office. See, e.g., ACA 21-1-207 (permitting state and local employees to run for public office); MacBride v. Exon, 558 F.2d 443, 448 (8th Cir. 1997) (state’s restriction of one’s ability to become a candidate for public of- fice is “severely circumscribed by the Constitution.”); Fisher v. Taylor, 210 Ark. 380, 196 S.W.2d 217 (1946) (right to be a candidate for public office is fundamental and should not be curtailed without good cause). But it is important to note that just because a person is eligible to run for office, it does not necessarily mean they can hold dual offices. See, e.g., AG Opinion 2007-218 (sets forth the general test for determining eligibility for office). In the context of dual office holding, there are three categories of unlawful conflicts of interest:

constitutional conflicts, statu-

tory conflicts and conflicts created by offices having incompatible duties or common law conflicts [Byrd v. State, 240 Ark. 743, 402 S.W.2d 121 (1966)]. In the context of dual office running, an act was recently enacted to prevent candidates from running for more than one office under certain circumstances. Act 1471 of 2013, codified as ACA 7-5-111 states, “A person shall not run for elec- tion for more than one (1) state, county, or municipal office if the elections are to be held on the same date.”


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